California Criminal Charges and How Crimes Get Charged in California

The basics of California criminal charges and how criminal law violations get charged in California

The process for filing California criminal charges involves a lot of steps. The basic steps apply to almost any criminal incident. Understanding what to expect at every stage of the criminal justice process will better prepare you for legal matters as they arise.

The Arrest and Police Report
After an arrest is made, a report by the arresting officer is filed with the law enforcement office and the prosecutor’s office. The report filed by the arresting officer summarizes the events that led to the arrest. Dates, locations, witness accounts, evidence collected and time of occurrence are all included in the police report. The report will also include a recommendation from the arresting officer of what California criminal laws he or she believes were broken. The report is a thorough record of all of the circumstances that led to the arrest and will become the foundation of the prosecutor’s evaluation of the incident for possible criminal charges.

California Criminal Charges and Prosecutorial Discretion
Based on the report, the prosecutor can file charges with the court, go to the grand jury to request guidance on what charges should be filed or decided to not pursue the matter. The prosecutor can also decide that lesser charges than those recommended by the officer should be filed. This decision could be based on any number of reasons including the severity of the crime, the criminal record of the person involved and the amount and quality of available evidence. The prosecutor has full and complete discretion over what course of action to take with regard to the filing of charges. Contrary to what television shows would have you believe, the alleged victim has no authority to “press charges”. Prosecutors can, and often do, file criminal charges without the cooperation of the alleged victim. If an indictment is filed, a subsequent preliminary hearing may be scheduled to verify that there is sufficient evidence to proceed.

The Role of the Grand Jury
In the case of severe felonies or crimes that have particular significance to the community, the prosecutor may elect to send the matter to the grand jury for guidance. The grand jury helps to decide whether charges should be filed and what the person should be charged with. Grand juries can contain as many as 23 members. They meet privately to confer on pending criminal matters presented to them by the prosecution. The prosecutors provide the grand jury with a list of potential charges, evidence supporting the case and witness accounts. If the grand jury believes that the evidence is sufficient, it will submit a “true bill”. If not, it will reject it by submitting a “no bill”. The prosecutor can advance the case regardless of the type of bill that is returned from the grand jury by simply filing criminal charges. In using the grand jury, the prosecutor is able to gauge the potential outcome of a case if it is presented before a “petit” jury during trial.

Prosecutors typically file formal criminal charges against the individual within two days of the arrest in the State of California, although it may take longer in the case of particularly complicated felony matters. It is not uncommon for a person to be charged for one crime and later be charged with additional crimes or a completely different crime. A combination of policy, political aspirations and personal beliefs influence how the prosecution proceeds in criminal cases.

If you have been arrested for a criminal law violation and are facing California criminal charges, it is important that you contact a criminal law attorney, like the criminal law attorneys of Cooper, Cooper & Morris Law Offices, as soon as possible so that you have proper guidance throughout the charging process. Consultations with Cooper, Cooper & Morris Law Offices are always free.

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