When you are charged with a criminal offense anywhere in the state of California, your first court appearance is called the arraignment. An arraignment is a legal court proceeding, in which you will stand before a judge and formally enter a plea which determines how the rest of your criminal case will proceed. An arraignment typically takes place just a few days after an arrest. You will have your attorney with you in court. At an arraignment:

  • Your rights and your possible sentence are read to you.
  • You will be allowed to enter a plea.
  • You will be offered a plea bargain.
  • Your arraignment will also deal with the issue of your bail. The court may decide to either increase or reduce the bail amount during arraignment.

You can either plead guilty or not guilty at this arraignment after speaking with your attorney about which option is better for you. In some cases, you may also be permitted to plead no contest, a plea that is very similar to a guilty plea but does not require you to explicitly admit guilt. However, you should not enter any kind of plea without legal advice from your Los Angeles criminal defense attorney. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor, and have decided to plead not guilty, then a date for a trial will be set. If you have been charged with a felony, and the charges are not dropped, and you do not plead guilty or no- contest to the charges, then you will get a chance for a preliminary hearing, before a trial date.

Do not plead guilty, and do not accept a plea bargain unless your defense attorney indicates that it’s the best possible “deal” you can make.

More than 90 percent of criminal cases never actually go to a trial. Most criminal cases in southern California are resolved when the defense and the prosecution settle the case by agreeing to a plea bargain. In a plea bargain agreement, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more charges in exchange for the prosecution dropping the remaining charges, reducing the charges, or recommending a lighter sentence. In a DUI case, for example, a defendant may agree to plead guilty to the lower charge of reckless driving and accept the less severe penalties to avoid the harsh consequences of a DUI conviction. In some cases, depending on the specifics of your case, you may be able to avoid jail time by accepting a plea bargain. Before accepting any plea bargain, if you’re charged with any crime in the Los Angeles area, get help and contact immediately an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.

Without an attorney’s advice, most people have no way to know if accepting the plea bargain they’ve been offered is a wise decision or a foolish one. Plea bargains are offered as a quick way to resolve cases in a legal system that’s perpetually backlogged and overcrowded. If your attorney has confidence that you can be acquitted at a trial, or if your attorney believes the charge may ultimately be dismissed, don’t take the plea bargain.

Plea bargains can take place at any point in the process. Sometimes an agreement can be reached at the arraignment; in other cases, parties have agreed to plea bargains while a jury is deliberating. Plea bargains benefit the court, because they mean fewer costly trials; they benefit defendants, who avoid the most severe penalties; and plea bargains also benefit prosecutors, because convictions on lesser charges still count as convictions.

Here’s an example of what could happen. Let’s say you are at an open–air street concert, dancing and enjoying time with friends. The police accost you, arrest you for being drunk and disorderly in public, and pour your drink on the ground. In some California jurisdictions, the police aggressively enforce the law against public intoxication.

To convict you for public intoxication in California, the state must prove that you were “willfully” intoxicated in a public place and that you were a risk to yourself and/or others. Being drunk-and-disorderly in public is a misdemeanor in California, but if you are charged with the crime, you should fight the charge with help from an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer. If you’re convicted, you could face up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. But that may only be the start of your problems. A drunk-and-disorderly conviction will go on your permanent criminal record. It will be seen by prospective employers and professional licensing boards.

When you go to court, the prosecutor offers you no jail time in exchange for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor. You’re scared of jail, you want the whole nightmare to be over with, and you accept the plea bargain. Now there’s conviction on your criminal record. A defense attorney would have pointed out to the judge that without a sample of your drink or a blood-alcohol content test, there’s really no evidence that you were drunk or drinking alcohol whatsoever. The charge would probably be entirely dismissed.

This is a good example of why it’s imperative in southern California to obtain the advice and services of an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney if you’re charged with any crime. If you’re facing a charge now or in the future, make the call promptly.

Should You Accept A Plea Bargain?

If you’re charged with a serious crime, should you accept a plea bargain? Of course, the answer will depend on the nature of the crime and the circumstances of your particular case. Don’t forget, however; a plea bargain is offered by prosecutors to serve their interests, not yours, and a plea bargain may or may not be in your best long-term interests. Don’t accept any deal or agreement before discussing it with your defense attorney. If you face criminal charges in southern California, now or in the future, do not wait. Put an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney on the case as quickly as possible.

By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.