What Happens if I'm Charged with a Misdemeanors?
The law defines crimes in terms of punishment. A misdemeanor is a crime whose maximum punishment is one year in the county jail.
Your first court appearance after your arrest is called an arraignment. You will appear briefly before a judge who will advise you of your constitutional rights, give you a copy of the charges [called a complaint] and ask if you wish to be referred to the public defender. Only those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer are eligible for our services.
If you are referred to the public defender’s office while you are in custody the assigned deputy public defender will interview you in custody. If you are out of custody, the case will be continued long enough to give you a chance to discuss your case with your assigned attorney.
The pretrial hearing is an opportunity to see if your case can be settled without a trial. This is sometimes called "plea bargaining" and it occurs in every case. Your public defender meets with the district attorney with the goal of securing a reduction of the charges and sentence in exchange for your plea of "guilty" or "no contest".
If you decide to enter into a plea bargain, you will be asked to give up your right to have a jury trial. You will then enter a plea of guilty or no contest to at least one of the charges. Typically, your sentencing will occur the same day.
If you choose not to enter into a plea bargain with the district attorney, your case will be continued for trial.
Every criminal defendant has the right to a trial by jury. Because every person accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent, the burden is on the district attorney to convince 12 jurors that you are guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt."
Most misdemeanor trials last less than a week. All 12 jurors must agree in order to convict or acquit. If the jury cannot agree, a "mistrial" will be declared and the case may be tried again before a different jury, settled by way of plea bargain or even dismissed.
Stanislaus County public defenders are among the best trained criminal defense attorneys in the country. Your attorney will select an impartial jury, present an opening statement, cross examine the witnesses who testify against you, present witnesses or evidence on your behalf and give a powerful closing argument to the jury.