You have had the day from hell, your company ‘down-sized’ and let you go, your girlfriend has suddenly found she’s still in love with an old flame, you were cut off on the freeway by a Hummer and nearly hit someone else. You decide that maybe what you need is to go get some super rich ice cream at the mall. While you’re waiting your turn, some big fat loudmouth in a suit just walks in front of you and makes his order. Near the breaking point, you manage to keep your temper, thinking he’ll be out of there momentarily. As he’s leaving, the oblivious idiot trips and throws his order all over you.
Rage overtakes you and you not only punch the guy, but manage to put him through the front window.
The police arrive along with the ambulance; you are taken to jail; loudmouth is taken to the hospital.
After being booked and photographed, you sit in a cell wondering how it came to this, and what happens next.
In general, the process follows this pattern:
The police take all the evidence information they have thus far and turn it over to the District Attorney’s office. The DA’s office decides whether, and what type of charges are appropriate, and these charges are then issued.
Following this is your initial appearance in court. (If you are charged with a misdemeanor, this is your arraignment; because of the amount of damage, you have been charged with a felony.) At this time, bail will be set, and any conditions of bail put forth. Several factors go into this- your personal history, standing in the community, and the seriousness of the crime.
The judge has the option, if you have never been in trouble before and the crime is not serious of releasing you without bail; up to no release at any bail. Most cases fall somewhere in between. The more serious the crime, the more damage to people or property, as well as how often (and for what) you’ve been in trouble- the higher the bail. Bail is an insurance that you will return for trial, rather than flee.
Most people cannot readily get their hands on the required cash for release, therefore the use of a bail bondsman. For a fee (usually 10% of the total amount of the bail) a bondsman will cover your bail. It will be returned to him when you show up for your trial.
Also at this time, the judge will set the date of your next (preliminary) hearing for your felony case.
This is also the point where a public defender (if you do not already have a lawyer and it has been concluded through an indigence investigation that you cannot afford one) will be assigned.
The pre-trial hearing is a presentation of the evidence, possibly including witnesses, to decide whether or not there is enough information to say that a crime was committed, and that you are most likely the one that did it. Your lawyer is going to try and convince the judge that the information or witnesses are uncertain enough that your charges should be dismissed. This will also allow your lawyer to see the case against you, and allow him to form your defense.
Then will be the pre-trial/final conference; followed by the motion hearing, in which the prosecution and the defense argue before a judge to determine what evidence and witnesses should or should not be presented, and why; and finally, the trial.
Your lawyer is one of the most important decisions (short of NOT punching loudmouth) you can make at this time; use the resources available to help you- internet, BBB, and State Bar Association.