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About Los Angeles Criminal Law Center

Los Angeles Criminal Law Center is sponsored by The Rodriguez Law Group, a criminal defense firm serving Los Angeles, CA and the surrounding areas. The Rodriguez Law Group was founded by Ambrosio E. Rodriguez, a former prosecutor with over 18 years experience. During his time as a prosecutor, Mr. Rodriguez handled serious criminal matters including sex crimes and death penalty cases. The information on this site is intended to assist anyone going through the criminal justice process.

Do You Need A Lawyer At An Arraignment In California?

Being arrested can leave you feeling like you have nowhere to turn. The surroundings may be unfamiliar and you may find the legal process confusing. But, it may provide some solace to know that criminal matters in California generally follow a common set of procedures. One of these is the arraignment, which is an opportunity for you to hear and respond to the charges brought against you.

Following an arrest, the first step of any criminal case is the filing of charges by the prosecution and the arraignment hearing. Next, there is a process called discovery and then preliminary hearings, followed by the trial and court verdict. If a defendant is found guilty, he or she has the option to appeal that decision to a higher court (known as an appeals court).

During an arraignment, you have the right to have an attorney present. This means that you can waive that right and choose not to be represented. However, this isn’t recommended. Because this is your first time in front of the court and you will be responding to charges, an attorney can be very helpful in navigating this process on your behalf.

The Arraignment

An arraignment is the defendant’s first court appearance in a criminal case. If the defendant is taken into custody and housed in a jail, the arraignment must be scheduled within 48 hours following the arrest (not including holidays and weekends). If the defendant is not held in jail, the arraignment is not scheduled for 10 days or more. During this period, the defendant has the opportunity to seek legal counsel.

During the arraignment, the defendant is notified of the pending criminal charges. The defendant is also made aware of his or her constitutional rights and informed that an attorney will be appointed if the defendant cannot afford one. The defendant then responds to the charges before the court and enters what is referred to as a plea.

Plea Options

A plea in a criminal matter is very important and dictates how the case proceeds. There are three types of pleas each with very different ramifications: not guilty, guilty, and no contest.

With a not guilty plea, the defendant claims to have not committed the crime in question. In this case, it is up to the prosecution to prove its case that the defendant did commit the crime. Because a defendant is presumed innocent in a criminal case, the standard of proof is high. In fact, the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. This means that, based on the evidence, there is no other logical conclusion than the defendant committed the crime. 

By contrast, a guilty plea means that the defendant admits to committing the alleged crime. In this case, there is no trial by the prosecution and the judge enters a conviction. The matter then proceeds to sentencing.

A plea of no contest is a bit more complicated. Here, the defendant does not dispute the charge but does not admit guilt either. While this plea has the same effect as a guilty plea in a criminal case, the defendant’s guilt cannot be used as evidence of wrongdoing in any subsequent civil suit. 

Because of the importance of selecting the appropriate plea during the arraignment, an attorney can be very helpful in determining which plea is the most advantageous given your unique circumstances.    

If the Defendant is in Custody

There are a few things to consider when a defendant is held in jail at the time of arraignment. After the plea is made the court has a few options to consider. One option is to release the defendant without bail, also known as of his or her “own recognizance.” This determination is made based on the defendant’s promise to show up for the next court date.

The court may also choose to send the defendant back to jail until bail can be posted. The amount of the bail is set by the court and is up to the discretion of the judge given the circumstances of the case.

Finally, the court has the option to refuse to set bail. In this situation, the defendant remains in custody until the next court date. Some reasons the court may not release a defendant out on bail is if there is a possibility that the defendant may not return to court, or if there is a danger that witnesses may be interfered with or other crimes may be committed while on release.

What Is The Three Strikes Law?

In baseball, “three strikes and you’re out” is a common phrase. It lets players know that that the third strike is their last chance to hit the ball. Players who fail to get a hit on their third try are sent back to the dugout and, in some cases, this means game over.

The Three Strikes Law has a similar but much grimmer meaning for habitual felons in California. 

Essentially, the Three Strikes Law is a set of sentencing guidelines for felony convictions. Its purpose is to deter individuals with prior serious felonies from committing any further felonies.

The original law achieved this by having severe penalties for the third felony, with a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

The law wasn’t without its critics. They argued that the law was too severe. Particularly, that non-violent felonies shouldn’t count as a third strike as these crimes don’t warrant the possibility of receiving life in prison without the chance for parole.

Since its enactment in 1994, the law has been relaxed, especially in regard to third-time felons. But, the sentencing guidelines are still strict.

History Of The Three Strikes Law

The original Three Strikes Law gave harsh sentencing guidelines to habitual felony offenders. The first serious felony conviction was the first strike on their record. On the first strike, the individual was sentenced normally. 

The Three Strikes Law starts making changes to regular sentencing guidelines at the second felony. If the felon was convicted of a serious felony for the second time, the amount of time they spent in jail was doubled. This was the second strike on their record.

After the second conviction for a serious felony (the second strike) a subsequent conviction for any felony–whether serious or not–was the third strike on their record. This meant that even non-violent felonies counted as a third strike. Under the Three Strikes Law sentencing guidelines, the mandatory penalty for the third felony was 25 years to life in prison without parole.

In 2012, Proposition 36 was passed. It made two substantial changes to the Three Strikes Law sentencing guidelines:

  1. If a third-time felon was currently serving 25 years-to-life as a mandatory sentence under the old law, the new law allows them to petition the court to be re-sentenced under the new second-strike guidelines if they are eligible; and
  2. Instead of any felony counting as a third strike, now the third strike sentencing would only be triggered if that felony was a serious felony.

Proposition 36 was a substantial step towards relaxing the Three Strikes Law sentencing guidelines. However, California law still gives harsh penalties to habitual felons and further changes are currently being considered. 

What Is The Difference Between A Felony And A Serious Felony?

The Three Strikes Law makes an important distinction between a felony and a serious felony. In California, a felony is broadly defined as any crime that carries a sentence of more than one year in jail or prison. This includes non-violent offenses, like drug charges.

A serious felony, on the other hand, has a much narrower definition. The term serious felony is reserved for the gravest crimes. Examples of a serious felony include:

  • Murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Rape
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping
  • Continuous sexual abuse of a child
  • Burglary
  • Carjacking
  • Any robbery

By distinguishing between a felony and a serious felony, Proposition 36 prevents individuals committed of two prior serious felonies from automatically serving 25 years to life in prison for a subsequent non-violent felony, such as the sale of a controlled substance.

How Can A Criminal Defense Attorney Help Me?

Although the Three Strikes Law has been revised, any felony conviction in California can have serious long-term consequences, including incarceration and monetary fines.

If you have a felony criminal record and are facing new charges, or if this is your first possible conviction, it’s important to seek legal help as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help protect you from the Three Strikes Law, including negotiating plea bargains

If I Plan on Pleading Guilty, Do I Still Need A Lawyer?

Whether you committed the crime or not, you know the facts look bad and you just want the case to go away. You plan on pleading guilty. Do you still need an attorney?

97% of criminal cases in California are settled before trial with a plea bargain. Plea bargains save the court time and resources. In a plea bargain, you agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge in order to receive a less severe punishment. Of course, this means you don’t go to trial.

There are many reasons to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney, even if you are going to plead guilty. Prosecutors will try to rush things along and take advantage of your inexperience in legal matters. There is still a complicated court process even when you are taking a plea bargain. An experienced criminal attorney can make sure things are handled correctly and ensure that you aren’t opening yourself up to further legal troubles by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time during this process.

An Attorney Can Protect Your Rights and Your Best Interests

Your attorney will make sure that your rights are protected during the plea process. During a plea deal, the prosecution needs to present the case they have against you and share the evidence that will be used. If there was a problem with the way evidence was obtained, an attorney can identify the problem and move to have the evidence thrown out.

Without an attorney, you have no one looking out for your best interests. During the plea process, an attorney may be able to spot weaknesses in the prosecution’s case that could lead to a reduced sentence or even the case being dismissed.

You Need A Properly Negotiated Plea Deal

A seasoned attorney will understand the implications of the charges against you. They will know the strengthens and weaknesses of the prosecutor’s case and help you understand the reasons why a plea deal may be in your best interest. If that is the case, an attorney will secure the right plea deal.

An experienced attorney may have dealt with your prosecutor in the past and have a good sense of how to negotiate with them. Every county, every judge and every courtroom plays by their own unofficial rules. An experienced criminal defense attorney knows how a courtroom and the prosecutor operates; this is useful in creating a strategy for your case. 

An attorney experienced with negotiating a plea deal can make sure that you get a less severe punishment than what may be initially offered. You may even be able to negotiate a plea deal with no jail time at all. Your attorney can even negotiate a plea bargain that doesn’t leave you with a criminal conviction.

A plea bargain is nearly impossible to undo. This is something that needs to be negotiated correctly the first time. You want to make sure that a criminal defense attorney reviews all the terms of the plea bargain.

Even a simple matter can quickly get complicated without the insight of an experienced criminal defense attorney.