The Stages of a State Criminal Case

(Click here or scroll down for Stages of a Federal Criminal Case)


When a law enforcement agency has probable cause to believe that an individual has committed, or is in the process of committing a crime, that agency (often the Los Angeles Police Department, “LAPD”, Los Angeles Sheriff Department, “LASD” or California Highway Patrol, “CHP”) may arrest the individual and take him or her to jail. However, it is not necessary for a person to be arrested before charges are filed.

In some cases, charges are filed and a letter is sent from the prosecutors' office to the defendant notifying him/her of the charges and ordering him or her to appear in court on a particular date. We refer to this type of letter as a “citation.”


If an arrest is made, and a person is taken to jail, then a file is opened for the individual at the jail which includes fingerprints, booking photos, and other relevant information which is gathered on the individual.


If you have been arrested and brought to jail, the following may happen: (1) bail may be posted by the defendant in an amount set according to a bail schedule (PDF 650KB); (2) the defendant may be released on his or her own recognizance (an “OR” release), which means they are released without having to post bail; or (3) the defendant may remain in custody and be transported to court within 48 hours (excluding Sundays and holidays) for his or her arraignment (see section below). This usually happens if the defendant is unable to post bail, or if the arresting agency denies bail.


The first court appearance is called the arraignment. At this time, the defendant will appear in court before a magistrate, or judge, and be informed of the charges against him or her. The defendant will tell the court if they are going to plead guilty or not-guilty.The court will also inform the defendant of his or her constitutional rights, and arguments may be made by the attorneys to decrease or increase the bail amount.

Felony Cases: Preliminary Hearing

In felony cases, the next stage is the preliminary hearing or probable cause hearing. The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. It is an informal evidentiary hearing where the prosecution presents witness testimony and evidence before a Judge who then determines if there is enough evidence to take the case to trial. Defense counsel has the opportunity to challenge this evidence through cross-examination and by potentially calling its own witnesses.

In misdemeanor cases, the next stage will be a pretrial conference (see section below).

Arraignment on the Information

If, at the conclusion of the Preliminary Hearing, the judge determines that there is enough evidence to take the case to trial, then the defendant is “held to answer” by the judge and. The prosecutor will then file a final charging document called an “Information.” The next court appearance will be the arraignment on the Information. At this appearance, the defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charges to which the defendant was held to answer at the Preliminary Hearing. if there is no settlement or accepted plea bargain, then the case is generally set for a pretrial conference.

Pretrial Conference

At the pretrial conference, the prosecutor and defense counsel often discuss the status of the case, any trial issues, possible resolutions, and any potential plea bargains. The two parties may also negotiate and involve the judge in the negotiations. Alternatively, pretrial motions may also be heard and filed during the pretrial stage. Examples of such pretrial motions are: motions to dismiss, Pitchess motions (motion to look into the arresting officers' personnel files for previous complaints), motions to compel discovery, and motions to suppress evidence.

Jury Trial

If no plea bargain is reached between the parties, then the case is either set for a jury trial or a bench trial. (A bench trial is a trial conducted with only a judge presiding and no jury).

If a case is set for a jury trial, then both sides select a jury of twelve people to listen to the evidence in the case and to determine whether the prosecutor has proved the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Each side has the opportunity to make opening arguments, to subpoena witnesses to testify, to present other types of relevant evidence, and to make closing arguments. After both parties conclude their closing arguments, the jury or judge deliberates and reaches a verdict. In a jury trial, all twelve jurors must agree that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to find the defendant guilty.If the jury cannot agree on a verdict then the verdict is declared “hung.” The prosecutor can then decide whether to re-file the charges. In a bench trial, the judge makes a determination as to whether the defendant is guilty.


If there is a guilty verdict, or a plea bargain has been accepted by the parties and the court, then a sentencing hearing occurs. At sentencing, each party may argue for the judge to consider evidence presented in the case and to argue for a particular sentence. However, in the case of a plea bargain, the sentence is usually known and agreed upon in advance by the defendant and the prosecutor.

If you are facing state criminal charges, then contact the leading criminal lawyers in Los Angeles at White Goldstein today for a free, confidential consultation at: (877) 77 WE-WIN or (877) 779-3946.

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The Stages of a Federal Criminal Case


Any federal criminal case begins with an investigation by a federal agency, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”).


The federal investigative agency gathers evidence and then presents it's findings to the United States Attorney's Office (“USAO”) for consideration. An Assistant United States Attorney (“AUSA”), then presents the case to a grand jury. The grand jury ultimately decides whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain criminal charges. If the grand jury indicts, then a written indictment is filed with the District Court. Occasionally, instead of a grand jury indictment, a complaint will be filed by the AUSA, and a preliminary hearing will be held to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to pursue the charges.

Arrest and Bail

An individual who is facing federal charges may be arrested and detained in federal custody by the United States Marshals. There are several different types of bond available in federal court, including secured and unsecured appearance bonds. A federal defense lawyer will play a major role in helping his or her client obtain an unsecured appearance bond, or an own recognizance “O.R.” release, which means bail will not be set and does not need to be paid but rather property or a third party surety may be sufficient to release the defendant.

Initial Appearance

If an arrest warrant has been issued prior to securing a grand jury indictment, or the defendant surrenders himself to the US Marshals, there will be an initial appearance. At this appearance, the Judge advises the defendant of the charges against him or her but does not enter a plea on his behalf. The Judge also will determine what type of bond, if any, will reasonably assure the presence of the defendant in court.
At this initial appearance, the Government may move for “detention” (for the defendant to remain in custody for the duration of the case) and both defense counsel and the prosecutor will argue whether the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community. At this time, the Pretrial Services Division interviews the defendant regarding possible bond resources, family ties, employment history and other relevant information. The Pretrial Services Division then issues a confidential report to the court, and to both parties, with a specific bond or detention recommendation.


At the arraignment, the defendant appears in court and will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. A defendant's federal defense attorney will be pivotal in advising the defendant during this stage.
Pretrial or Status Conference

If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, the case is assigned to a specific judge and set for trial. The judge then sets a series of court dates on which the parties file motions, argue motions, and negotiate possible dispositions for the case. The first court date is generally called a status conference.

Plea Bargains and United States Probation Office (“US Probation”)

If a plea bargain is agreed upon, and signed by both parties, then the judge will hold a change of plea hearing to determine whether the Judge should accept the plea bargain. If the judge accepts the plea bargain, then a sentencing hearing date is set and the case is referred to US probation for a report to be issued regarding the probation department's sentencing position. The defendant meets with the US Probation Office and the US Probation Office then prepares a Presentence Report (“PSR”) which informs the court about the defendant's personal and legal history, facts of the case, and recommends a particular sentence to be imposed by the Court at sentencing.


If a plea bargain is not reached, then a trial date will be set. At trial, both the prosecuting attorney and defense attorney will have the opportunity to make opening and closing arguments, to present evidence and witnesses, and to challenge and cross-examine the other side's evidence and witnesses. The jury will then deliberate and arrive at a verdict of not guilty, guilty, or will be unable to reach a verdict and will be declared a “hung jury.”


If there is a guilty verdict, or an accepted plea bargain, then a sentencing hearing will occur. At sentencing, both parties may argue for a particular sentence based on the applicable sentencing guidelines, case law, the Pre-sentence Report, the facts of the case, the individual characteristics of the defendant, and any other evidence which either party believes is relevant to the case. Both parties have the right to present evidence at the hearing before the Judge imposes a sentence. The Judge will then impose a final sentence based on all of the aforementioned factors.

The Federal Criminal Court process is a complicated and oftentimes confusing system which requires the knowledge and experience of a skilled federal criminal defense attorney. If you are facing federal charges, then contact the criminal defense lawyers at White Goldstein today for a free, confidential consultation at: (877) 77 WE-WIN or (877) 779-3946.

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White Goldstein

At White Goldstein, we provide our clients, and their loved ones, with nothing less than excellence in criminal defense. Unlike many criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles, we fight for our clients with compassion and emotion as well as intellect and skill because we genuinely care for our clients and their families