The pretrial phase of a criminal law case in California has multiple steps. After pleading not guilty at arraignment, this phase begins. Pretrial includes court appearances, motions, discovery, and negotiations for plea bargains. Pretrial is where most criminal cases are settled, so understanding this process is crucial.
This phase can last a few days if a settlement is reached early, or it can last several years. The opposing attorneys discuss strengths and weaknesses of the case at hand, the history and character of the defendant, and possibilities for a plea bargain. To ensure fairness in these types of discussions, California has its own discovery process.
During the pretrial phase, both sides may make motions, which are requests for the judge to do something. The motions may be made aloud in court or by writing, and generally follow strict guidelines. Common motions include a motion to dismiss if the charges were not filed correctly or probable cause was not established, a motion to suppress evidence for a number of reasons, or a “Pitchess” motion to determine prejudice on behalf of the arresting officer, among others.Discovery is where both sides obtain evidence, a two-ways street that requires both sides to provide the other with all the evidence they plan to use to make their cases at trial. This information includes witness names and statements, physical evidence, exculpatory, or defense-favorable evidence, witness criminal history, and any relevant written or recorded statements. It is an informal process if the attorneys cooperate, but the court may intervene if one side feels the other is not following the aforementioned rules.
Finally, attorneys work to secure a plea bargain. This usually requires a defendant to plead guilty to a charge, but a lesser charge than was originally filed. For example, a defendant may plead guilty to reckless driving to avoid a DUI charge, which comes with a greater social stigma, sentence, and degree of seriousness.
If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, or their professional license is at risk, contact Attorney Miranda McCroskey for an immediate consultation at (833) 865-6253 or email her at email@example.com.