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Your Right to Represent Yourself in a California Criminal Case

Updated: Jan 24

Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should

It is very important that you learn about what is at stake if you have a criminal case in California, and what you will be expected to do and know in order to represent yourself. Remember, there are many intricacies involved in a criminal case that you should be aware of and prepared for.

It may not be a good idea to represent yourself in a criminal case if:

  • You have a very complicated case and serious criminal charges have been filed against you.

  • You are going to have a jury trial.

  • You are influenced emotionally to the case and have a difficult time seeing things objectively.

  • The price you'd have to pay if you lose your case, both monetary and in jail time.

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Regardless Of Where You Are In The Criminal Justice Process, Remember Your Rights:

  • To remain silent

  • To due process of the law before being deprived of life, liberty, or property

  • To humane treatment at all times

  • To speak with an attorney privately, even if you cannot afford to pay for one

  • To be read your constitutional Miranda rights

  • To be told you are being arrested and informed of any and all charges against you

  • Against unreasonable searches and seizures

  • Against excessive bail

“Just because you can, it doesn't mean you should represent yourself in a California criminal court.”

Understanding How The Criminal Process Works In California

If you’re under suspicion of committing a crime in the of California, the police will begin a criminal investigation. This process involves a comprehensive analysis of any evidence that could determine whether or not you committed a crime.

This evidence is obtained through interviews with people, associates, witnesses or groups associated with the crime under investigation. A police officer may request an interview with you to gather more evidence and confirm if they are able to file charges against you.

Ideally, at this point you already have a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who can represent you during any interviews and advice you of your legal rights.

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After a criminal investigation, an arrest will be made if law enforcement has enough justifiable evidence that proves you have committed a crime. After an arrest, you’re taken to jail, and one of three possible things can happen:

  1. You remain in custody.

  2. You will be released after some time if charges aren’t filed.

  3. You post bail with a promise to show up in court for an arraignment.

The arraignment is the first court appearance following an arrest. During this hearing, you will hear from the prosecutor all the charges against you. At your arraignment, you will also enter a plea. Your criminal defense attorney can go over your rights and develop a plan of action. You'll be required to enter one of three pleas:

  1. Guilty – You admit to all the charges that have been filed against you..

  2. Not Guilty – You object to the charges against you.

  3. No Contest – You acknowledge the charges against you, but you are not admitting to anything.

Depending on the particulars of your criminal case and the evidence against you, a judge may or may not consider bail at your arraignment. Regardless of whether or not if it’s discussed during the arraignment or a separate hearing, a few things can happen:

  • You will be released from jail without bail on your “own recognizance,”

  • The judge will set a bail amount for you, or

  • You will be denied bail entirely.

If a judge decides to set bail for you, they will review several factors, such as your criminal history, and whether you’re a risk to your community. After the arraignment and bail hearings, your case will take one of two paths:

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Misdemeanor Cases – Your lawyer and the prosecutor working on your criminal case will exchange evidence. This process is referred to as “discovery.” During this process, your lawyer and the prosecutor may negotiate an outcome without having to go to trial. This is another reason why having a good lawyer comes into play, ideally someone who has good relationships and is well versed in the criminal court system.

Felony Cases – If your case is not resolved after your arraignment, a hearing will be held where the judge will decide if there’s enough evidence to prove you committed a crime and move forward to trial. If the judge decides the evidence against you is overwhelming then the prosecutor files the paperwork, and you will be arraigned a second time.

From here, the process follows the same steps as above: the discovery process takes place, your lawyer and the prosecutor can file pre-trial motions, and attempts will be made to settle the case before trial.

If your misdemeanor or felony case is not settled in the pre-trial step of the California criminal process, it moves to trial.

At this point you have an option of having a jury trial or a court trial. If you choose to take your case before a jury, they will decide if you are guilty or not based off the evidence the prosecutor and lawyer present in court.

If you select a court trial, the judge will make the decision. Regardless of which path you take, the prosecutor must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

When a guilty verdict is issued, the judge will set a date for your sentencing hearing. At this hearing, the prosecutor and your attorney will make suggestions regarding the appropriate sentence for you.

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