What is the foundation for a criminal defense?
In the American criminal justice system, there are three fundamental principles:
#1 – Presumption of Innocence:
Anyone who is charged with a criminal offense is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
#2 – Burden of Proof:
As a defendant, you have no burden to prove that you are innocent. The burden of proof is all on the government. They have to present convincing evidence in testimony and prove you are guilty to a jury of your peers.
#3 – Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt:
This is the highest burden of proof in the criminal justice system. The jury or judge has to be firmly convinced that the state has met the highest standard burden of proof and that you are guilty of committing each and every act of the charged crime.
I am the Chair of the Criminal Law section at the Sacramento Bar Association. I am also the current Chairwoman of the Board Of Director and volunteer for the Upper Room Dining Hall (Formerly the Secretary from 2018-2019)- a homeless feeding program in Placerville, California.
Helping those who need it most and giving back to the Sacramento area community are the cornerstones of my law firm.
What Is The Difference Between A Felony And A Misdemeanor?
A Criminal Defense Lawyer will advise you that there are key differences between a misdemeanor and a felony in the criminal justice system.
A misdemeanor is a minor criminal offense, whereas a felony is a much more serious, usually violent, criminal offense.
Examples of felony violations are:
Possession of dangerous drugs for sale
Examples of misdemeanor violations are:
Driving on a suspended license
The Essential Difference Is The Severity Of The Punishment
A felony conviction can land you in state prison, but a misdemeanor will only have you do time in the local or county jail. A felony can involve a fine up to $10,000 and a sentence of up to life in prison or even the death sentence for special circumstance murder. A misdemeanor is generally punishable by a $1,000 fine and a maximum of one year in county jail.
In addition to the longer punishment, a person convicted of a felony:
Loses the right to vote
Cannot possess firearms
Cannot obtain certain licenses, such as a hunting or a fishing license is also required to disclose a conviction when applying for jobs
What is the Criminal Defense Court Process?
Sacramento Criminal defense attorney Jennifer Mouzis is well-versed in the specialized rules of your local court, she and her law firm can help you navigate the criminal justice system with ease. Below is a general overview of what you can expect after an arrest leading up to a verdict.
An Arraignment Is Your First Appearance In Court
The judge will advise you of the charges made against you and let you know your constitutional rights.
You will enter a plea of Guilty or Not Guilty.
Future court dates are set: Felony Disposition Conference (FDC) and a Preliminary Hearing.
Bail is determined and set according to the danger you pose to the community, the seriousness of the crime, and whether or not you are a “flight risk”.
If you are in custody up until the time of the arraignment, the judge may release you “on your own recognizance” with the promise that you will return for scheduled court dates.
The judge may also decide to send you back to jail until bail is posted, or refuse you bail and send you back to jail.
This is a process called “discovery” and allows us to discuss the evidence against you and formulate an effective defense strategy. Within a few days after the arraignment, the prosecutor will send our law office:
Opportunity To Take A Plea Deal and Reduce Your Sentence
The Felony Disposition Conference (FDC) is also referred to as the plea bargaining conference. In this meeting, the judge, prosecutor, and myself will gather in the judge’s chamber to discuss your case. The prosecutor will present their best argument as to why they think you are guilty. Sometimes the prosecutor will make an offer to settle the case without a trial or preliminary hearing. The offer will most likely involve you accepting to plead guilty to the crime in exchange for a lesser sentence. For example, if you have been charged with murder, the charge may be downgraded to manslaughter, which carries a lesser sentence. Soon after, I will let you know what the exact offer is and it will be up to you to decide if you want to accept it or not.
If you take the offer, you will waive your right to a jury trial and will sign a change of plea form.
If you choose instead to plead not guilty, the date and time for your preliminary hearing will be confirmed.
The Preliminary Hearing
Within 10 court days from the date of your arraignment, a preliminary hearing is held. The purpose of the hearing is not to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt;” this is a much higher standard required at trial. Rather, the prosecutor only needs to persuade the judge that there is a strong enough suspicion that you have committed the crime.
The prosecution can present evidence in the form of testimony from:
Documents, photos, and recordings may also be admitted.
As your lawyer, I will have the opportunity to challenge the evidence and cross-examine the witnesses. If the judge determines there is no probable cause, the case is thrown out and you win. If the judge determines that the prosecution has a viable case, then an issue will be ordered requiring you to stand trial.
Opportunity To File Motions
Before trial, I will have the opportunity to file motions to suppress certain evidence.
For example, if we have discovered that the police unlawfully obtained evidence in your case, then we need to make sure that evidence gets thrown out and is deemed inadmissible in court.
There also may be a need to file a motion to force the prosecutor or police to disclose any evidence which could help prove your innocence.
The trial is required to begin within 60 days from the date of your trial court arraignment.
If your case is a misdemeanor charge, you have the right to proceed to trial within 30 days if you are in custody, or 45 days if you are out of custody, from your initial arraignment date.
Here is what you can expect during a trial:
Jury questioning and selection – 12 members of the community will be chosen by myself and the prosecutor
Presentation of evidence
In trial, all 12 jurors will have to believe beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest legal standard, that you are guilty of each and every act of each and every crime that you are accused of.
This felony process from beginning to end could take anywhere from several months to a year, depending on the charges.
Probation: An Alternative to California Prison
If convicted of a felony in California, sometimes the judge may order “formal” probation in lieu of a prison sentence, which will allow you to serve your sentence in the community. However, the judge does have the discretion to send you to county jail for up to a year.
Those eligible for probation usually include those who have no prior history of committing a serious or violent crime and are deemed to be capable of rehabilitation.
Felony probation in California typically lasts 3-5 years and includes such requirements as:
Meeting with a probation officer
Paying damages to the victim
Performing community service
Participating in rehabilitation programs
If you violate or fail to comply with any of the terms of the probation, the judge can send you to state prison up to the maximum term. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, the judge may order “informal” probation instead of issuing a fine or jail sentence. Unlike felony probation, you are not required to report to a probation officer. Instead, you periodically go back to court for a review of your progress. If you violate probation, the judge can send you to county jail.
Can I Clean Up My Record After I Complete Probation?
If you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, you may be able to get your conviction expunged.
As your attorney, I can petition the court to:
Reopen your case
Set aside conviction
Withdraw your plea of guilty
Enter a plea of not guilty, which will close the case and dismiss a conviction
Eligibility for expungement includes:
Your probation has been successfully completed
You do not have current criminal charges against you
You are not serving time for criminal charges
You are not on probation for criminal charges
You were not convicted of a serious sexual offense against a child
My Child Has Been Arrested, What Now?
If your child is in trouble with the law, I want you to know that our practice has a great track record of keeping minors out of state prison. As a former prosecutor in the Juvenile Court System, I developed a strong foundation for later specialization in the legal defense of juveniles in the criminal justice system.
In California, individuals under the age of 18 who are charged with a crime are usually sent to juvenile court, a court designated to meet the special needs of children and teenagers charged with crimes.
Juvenile courts are designated to rehabilitate, whereas adult criminal courts are more focused on punishment
Can My Child Be Charged As An Adult?
Yes. Your child may be transferred to the adult court system to be tried as an adult if your child is between the age of 14 to 17 and has committed a very serious crime such as:
As an attorney with extensive experience in juvenile defense cases, I generally like to keep the case in juvenile court because the punishment tends to be much less. With that said, it is sometimes beneficial for a child to go to adult court because a prosecutor would have to convince all 12 jurors that the crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt.
This decision, however, cannot be made until the details of your child’s case are carefully reviewed.
If Your Child Is Found Guilty Of A Serious Crime In A Juvenile Court:
The judge will not order your child to adult jail. Instead, the sentence may be time in:
A probation camp
A foster or group home
The California Division of Juvenile Justice (prison for minors)
Probation for minors can include the following conditions:
Follow a curfew
Perform community service
Pay restitution to the victim