When a person commits a crime, it can be classified in three ways: a felony, misdemeanor, or an infraction. An infraction case is the least heavy, usually only requiring the suspect to pay a fine. In California, the most classic type of infraction offense is a traffic violation. Meanwhile, misdemeanor cases are heavier than infractions, but not felonies. This type of criminal offense will carry either a fine or a 6-month county jail sentence. Now, there are several ways a crime can be counted as a misdemeanor, such as simple assault and battery charges. Finally, a felony case bears the most severe penalties among the three. A convicted felon may face thousands of dollars in fine, at least a year in state prison, or even a death sentence. Common felonious cases include rape, murder, and fraud.
In California, virtually all felony cases undergo the same procedures. First, the defendant is arrested. Now, it depends upon the degree of seriousness of your case, but an arrest can go in three different directions:
- If the prosecutor does not end up pursuing a lawsuit against the defendant, then the accused will be free to go;
- If bail is available for the alleged crime, and the defendant takes advantage of that option, then the defendant may temporarily enjoy the outside world while waiting for his/her actual court trial date; and
- If bail is not an option for the alleged crime, the defendant will be forced to stay in jail while waiting for his/her actual court trial date.
The last two scenarios always lead to the second step of the legal process which is the arraignment. This is essentially the term for the defendant’s first appearance before the court. Now, there are a lot of things and details that will unravel in an arraignment process. The judge or another legal representative will read the defendant’s constitutional rights, inform the court about the nature of the charges, and remind the defendant that should he/she not be able to afford a lawyer, the state will provide one for him/her. After that, the accused will enter a plea. They can proclaim “not guilty”, which basically means that the defendant does not admit or disagrees that a crime has been committed. A “not guilty” plea always leads to a second court trial, where the prosecutor will prove its case. On the other hand, the defendant may also plead “guilty” to the crime, where he/she admits that a crime has been committed. The court will automatically convict the person as guilty of a felony and impose the penalties depending on the crime.
After a plea, you can either be placed in police custody, be freed on your own recognizance, or pay the bail set by the judge. The first scenario is only when the court deems it too risky to send you off with a pending trial case as you may hide or flee from your obligations. For more information, you are highly encouraged to talk to a criminal defense attorney in California or read PC 976 to 992 at your own discretion.
Failure to Appear in Arraignment
As much as possible, you need to attend your arraignment whether by yourself or with your attorney. However, there are some circumstances that are just out of our control. And if something happens during your supposed trial date that prevented you from appearing before the court, then a bench warrant will be filed for your arrest. California Penal Code sections PC 166 and PC 978.5 states that bench warrants are summoning orders filed by the judge himself. The purpose of this is to get legal authorities to take you to the court. You can have it by force or you can voluntarily surrender yourself.
If you failed to appear before the court for arraignment in a felony case, then here are your punishments:
- 3 years at most in county jail;
- A maximum $5,000 fine; and
- Additional $5,000 to $10,000 fine if the defendant posted bail for their arrest.
Legal Assistance from California Criminal Defense Lawyers
There are a lot of things that cannot possibly be covered in a single article alone — although, we try our best to give you the most comprehensible and basic details. But no amount of self-directed research can be used as a substitute for a criminal defense attorney. Whether you were wrongfully detained, failed to appear in your arraignment schedule, or simply want to defend your innocence, criminal defense attorneys will be able to help you in every step of the way.