Criminal Law

You may find yourself charged with an offense that the court will designate and file under the criminal case. Criminal charges have a wide range, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs to theft and robbery to causing a nuisance. Being accused of a criminal offense does not mean you are a criminal. The judicial process divides the spectrum of criminal offenses into three levels of severity–Infractions, Misdemeanors and Felonies. It is the People of the State of California, through the Office of the District Attorney, who prosecutes any violations of the law. The violator is referred to as the defendant. Private attorneys may be retained to represent a defendant. If a defendant cannot afford a private attorney, the court will appoint a public defender to represent you.


Have you ever been pulled over for a traffic citation? I think most of us have and accept it as an unpleasant experience. If you are cited for speeding, failure to stop or a fix-it ticket, those violations are considered infractions. Most infractions are handled in Traffic Court and are punishable by a fine. Nonetheless, you are entitled to certain rights in traffic court. You can plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. A no contest plea is the same as a guilty plea, but with the added protection that it cannot be used against you in a civil trial. Generally, once you have pled guilty or no contest, a fine will be imposed and a date by which time to pay it. For moving violations (speeding, failure to stop, etc.), instead of a fine, there may be an option of traffic school. This option is available and you are eligible if you have not attended traffic school within the past 18 months of your present court disposition. An important aspect and purpose of traffic school is to keep the violation completely confidential. The only agencies that have access to traffic school attendance are the courts and law enforcement agencies. Traffic school will cost a little more money, but is worth paying because of its confidential effect. Traffic school is a mandatory eight-hour course and the school will require an application for admission charge. If you plead not guilty, you are entitled to a court trial or trial by declaration. Infractions are not entitled to a jury trial.


* You have the right to have your court trial within 45 days from the not guilty plea.
* The court may allow you to post bail. Bail is usually the amount due on the traffic citation.
* Upon entering a not guilty plea, the case is continued for trial and the officer subpoenaed to appear on the date set.
* At the trial all evidence will be presented before the court and the court will determine your guilt or innocence.
* If found not guilty, the charge will be dismissed. No points are assessed on your DMV record. It will be as if the violation never occurred.
* If found guilty, a fine is usually imposed. The bail posted, in most cases, applies towards the fine.


* A not guilty plea is entered in writing.
* The court may require you to post bail. Bail is usually the amount due on the traffic citation.
* A declaration will be given to you and one sent to the officer.
* You write your side of the story and the officer writes his side of the story.
* Both declarations are then given to the judge for review.
* A decision is rendered and mailed to both you and the officer.
* If found not guilty, the charge will be dismissed. No points are assessed on your DMV record. It will be as if the violation never occurred.
* If found guilty, a fine is usually imposed. The bail posted, in most cases, applied towards the fine.


Driving under the influence of alcohol, petty theft, hit & run, etc. are examples of misdemeanor offenses. The above-listed charges can be felonies, but in most cases they are filed by the District Attorney’s Office as misdemeanors. Misdemeanor offenses, depending on the violation, are punishable with a fine, and in some cases, incarceration. If a misdemeanor offense is filed against you, you are given notice to appear in court for arraignment. The arraignment commences the court’s proceeding. You are advised of your constitutional rights and the charges that are filed against you. The court will give you an opportunity at this time to consult with an attorney. If you cannot afford one, the court can refer you to the public defender. In any misdemeanor proceeding, an attorney should be consulted. There are minimum and maximum penalties with every offense and an attorney can advise you regarding these penalties. It is also advisable to consult with an attorney as soon as the offense occurs. By retaining an attorney at the onset, in the absence of a court order to the contrary or going to trial, the attorney can make all your court appearances, including sentencing.


A felony is the most severe charge, and if convicted, may require state prison incarceration. If you are charged with a felony, your attorney is required to assist you at all stages of the proceedings. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will assign one to you. Felonies can range from robbery, multiple driving under the influence charges, forgery, major or repetitive drug offenses, etc. Because conviction of a felony can result in imposition of substantial imprisonment, a felony offense must always be taken very seriously. Felony court proceedings begin with the arraignment in municipal court wherein if you are going to contest the charge, a not guilty plea is entered. At the next court hearing, the district attorney is required to show the court it has enough evidence to hold over to the superior court. Once in the superior court and absent dismissal or plea bargain disposition, the matter is set for trial. In felony cases, the defendant is required to be present and attend all of the court proceedings pertaining to defendants case.