The Legal Process
The arraignment is the first court appearance.
A Judicial Officer informs the defendant and his attorney of the following:
- What the charges are against him
- What rights he has under the constitution.
The defendant, through his attorney will enter a plea of :
- Not Guilty: This is where the defendant states that he did not commit the crime. The case will be set for a future hearing.
- Guilty: the defendant admits that he did commit the crime.
- Nolo Contendere: the defendant will not contest the charge. The plea has the same effect as a guilty plea except the conviction cannot be used against the defendant in a civil suit.
A defendant in a criminal case is nearly always entitled to a Preliminary Hearing to test the evidence against him in front of a magistrate. The magistrate, usually a judge, decides if a crime has been committed and if the defendant is the one who committed it. At the hearing the defendant has all the rights he would have at trial: The right to counsel, the right to testify or remain silent, the right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses before him and the right to present a defense (within certain limits).
The main differences between a Preliminary Hearing and a Jury Trial are that the defendant is not entitled to a jury at a Preliminary Hearing and the magistrate decides the case based upon "probable cause", meaning, more probably than not a crime was committed and the defendant committed it. This is a much lower standard than at trial, where the prosecution must prove the case beyond all reasonable doubt.
Anyone charged with a crime in California is entitled to a trial by a jury of 12 people from the community. At the trial, the defendant is entitled to an attorney, the right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him (that means see and hear and question), the right to testify or remain silent, and the right to demand the judge bring the defendant's witnesses before the jury through a subpoena (an order to appear).