This article has been written by Pooja Agrawal, pursuing a Diploma in US Corporate Law and Paralegal Studies from LawSikho and edited by Shashwat Kaushik.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.


Examining the trial length is necessary since a quicker trial saves time and money while increasing overall court productivity. There are sufficient causes for concern over trial duration. Trials take up the largest single chunk of the available judge time, the most valuable resource in the court, even though only a small percentage of cases submitted require a trial. Trials that go on longer than they should and monopolise the use of the judge, clerk, reporter, bailiff, and courtroom are forever lost to other litigants waiting for their turn in court. 

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An excessively drawn-out trial punishes even parties that settle disputes without going to trial. Whether the dispute is civil or criminal, the majority of cases are settled without going to trial. “There’s nothing like the sound of jurors’ footsteps entering the courtroom to produce a settlement or guilty plea, said the observer.  

Although the trial is arguably the most well-known aspect of criminal proceedings, it is merely one of many phases. The fact-finder in a criminal trial decides whether the defendant committed the offence. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard that is used most frequently in criminal cases, which means that the defendant committed the crime for which the judge and the jury have no reasonable doubt. 

The criminal justice system in California is intricate and replete with complex, detailed regulations and processes. An investigation and arrest are the first steps in the criminal prosecution process, which progresses through several stages before, during, or after trial. The majority of criminal cases only come to an end when the defendants accept the prosecution’s offer of a plea deal. In a plea agreement, the defendant decides to admit guilt to the alleged crimes or to lesser accusations before trial in exchange for lenient punishments or the dismissal of associated charges. 

A brief overview

The process of California’s court specifically describes the steps taken in a criminal case, including the report, investigation, arrest, sentencing, and, if necessary, an appeal. 

The process can be perplexing and opaque for people who have previously gone through the unfortunate process of being arrested and charged. In addition, it is a fallacy that a claimed victim has the legal right to “press charges” against anyone. It is vital to remember that police do not file criminal charges. The prosecuting attorney just receives reports and evidence from the police and determines whether to bring charges and what kind of charges to pursue. 

The parties filed a case through a variety of motions, including bail reduction, serna (a speedy trial motion), and pre-trial motions. A fair trial begins with the selection of a fair jury, which enables the prosecution and the defendant to present their respective cases. 

There are various alternative prosecution systems that allow a defendant to obtain the dismissal of criminal charges for many first-time offenders or someone charged with a minor offence. 

The results of defending are most disastrous for an inexperienced defendant. The best chance of a successful outcome is to hire or engage an experienced defence attorney who is familiar with the laws, regulations, codes, and common defences and can use the judicial system in their client’s favour. 

Types of crimes

When an infraction, misdemeanour, or felony offence is charged, the trial process in California slightly differs. 

Infraction- An infraction is a legal infringement that is subject to fines. The majority of infractions in California involve traffic violations, such as speeding. 

Felony offence- It is a criminal offence that carries a potential punishment of more than one year in custody. The death penalty, or perhaps life in prison without the possibility of parole, are the penalties for the most heinous felonies. If the judge finds that there is reasonable cause to believe that the accused has committed the alleged crime, felony cases may be transferred from lower courts to superior courts. 

Misdemeanor- A misdemeanour is a crime that is less serious than a felony and does not carry the possibility of a California state jail sentence. It is a crime that carries a maximum one-year sentence in a country jail. Without taking the cases to the superior court, this offence is often handled in the lower court. 

Criminal offences are more serious than infractions, including misdemeanours and felonies. 

Phases of a criminal trial in California

Depending on the type of criminal trial, the different phases of a criminal trial in California are discussed more in detail below:

Investigation and arrest  

The conduct of an investigation is specified in Section 939(i), and the grounds of arrest are specified in Sections 1185-1188 of the California Criminal Penal Code of 2010.

The claimed offence must be looked into before a criminal prosecution is started. Some reports start the investigative process. 

In many criminal situations, the arrest of the party comes after the party is supposedly caught by the police for breaching the law. In other situations, the police suspect criminal activity on the part of the party only after an investigation has been completed. 

The investigative phase of the case is crucial because it offers a chance for preemptive intervention. Before official charges are filed, the case may be dismissed if the investigator is given a strong defence argument. 

Police frequently question witnesses during criminal investigations and carry out search warrants. 

The police will occasionally contact the parties to conduct an interview. Invoking the privilege against self-incrimination and hiring a criminal defence lawyer on a pre-file basis are advocated in this situation. The lawyer can then represent the party in a conversation with the police. 

When prosecutors see that there isn’t enough evidence to make an arrest, the defence counsel may even be able to convince them to end the investigation. A detective is usually tasked with conducting an investigation when no arrests were initially made, the suspected offender was detained, or they were released on bail. 

If the accused party is inadvertently found guilty, the police will arrest them and file a case or process. 

In California, the police have the following grounds for making an arrest:

  • For misdemeanour crime- If the police have reasonable suspicion to believe the suspect committed the crime and they saw it happen in front of them, or if they have a judge’s signed arrest warrant. 
  • For felony crime- the police can only arrest if they have solid evidence that the suspect committed a crime, testimony from a witness, or a judge’s approved arrest order. 

Note that it’s a popular misperception that the Miranda warning must be read by the police right away following an arrest. Before being questioned by the police and given a Miranda warning, the party is not required to hear it. It is recommended to be quiet and allow the attorney to speak if you are being questioned. 

Filing the compliant

Criminal litigation

Section 853.9 of the California Criminal Penal Code 2010 indicates the filing of compliance after citation. 

The District Attorney (D.A.) office will decide whether to file charges after an appeal or not. If it does not file charges, the case is dismissed, the party is freed from custody (if they are in the custody of the police), and if not, the court will schedule a date for their arraignment. It is necessary to make this choice before the court date. 

The defendant can be granted proof of appearance and notified that no case has been filed at the first hearing. The decision to press charges, however, must be made by the prosecuting agency before the applicable statute of limitation. 

Citation instead of arrest

According to Sections 806 to 810 of the California Criminal Penal Code 2010, if the police feel there is little chance the defendant won’t appear in court for arraignment (as explained below), they may decide to issue a citation (notice to appear in court) rather than make the arrest. The outcome is the same as an arrest, but the offender can remain free until their arraignment as long as they appear in person. The judge will probably issue an arrest warrant if the defendant does not show up for their scheduled arraignment. The police will then search the community for the defendant and take them into custody. 


First, the courts based their decisions on the source of authority that governs establishing bail. Typically, the prosecutors’ request for bail is included in the bail schedule. The topic of bail may come up at the arraignment or a separate bail hearing. 

A judge’s decision to issue bail will depend on several variables, such as the severity of the charge, the defendants’ past, and whether the judge believes that they are likely to run. 

Release without Bail, also known as “Own Recognisance,” is a bail that is issued after the court has taken into account the nature of an offence, the suspect’s criminal history, and the suspect’s ties to family and work. A suspect who has been released on his own recognisance must promise in writing to appear at all scheduled court hearings but need not deposit bail. 

Set bail- In this scenario, the judge determines the bond amount, and the person remains in custody until they pay it. 

Deny bail- If bail is denied, the offender remains in custody while the case is heard in court. 


The stages of a criminal trial begin with the arrest. The judge ensures that you are aware of the charges and the possible consequences at an arraignment, which is a formal hearing. In essence, it is a hearing that is conducted in front of a judge. At the time of the bail hearing, there is also a chance to ask for an increase or decrease in bail. The court hearing during which the D.A. reads the charges against the party that were previously mentioned. 

The defendant must make a plea at this stage, which might be either guilty, non-guilty, or no contest.

If you plead guilty or no contest: If you enter a guilty or no contest plea, the judge may immediately sentence you or schedule a sentencing hearing (more on that below). On the day of arraignment, very few defendants enter a plea of guilty, and a felony case nearly never does so. 

If plead not guilty: If you plead not guilty, the pre-trial procedure will start. The judge will decide on bail and the terms of release. 

The parties have the right to counsel at this stage, and in the unlikely event that they are unable to pay for one, the court will designate one. 

Pre-trial process

The pretrial process in California criminal procedure is the period of time following arraignment and ending just before a trial. In this situation, the defence has the opportunity to ask for more evidence or a report. 

Negotiations between the Attorney and the Prosecutor, readiness hearings (known as pre-trial hearings in other countries), a preliminary hearing (in felony cases), and may be other motion hearings are all part of the pre-trial procedure. 

The judge determines at preliminary hearings whether there is probable cause that a crime was committed and then if there is cause to think that the defendant committed the offence. 

Basically, it refers to all the proceedings that take place before a trial, which include:

  • court appearances,
  • discovery issues (that is, the exchange of relevant evidence),
  • motion practise (a request by the defence or prosecution for the judge to take a desired action), and 
  • plea bargains and negotiations.

Attorneys exchange documents, pictures, and a list of any tangible evidence found at the crime scene as part of the discovery process. 

Motion practise is the process through which a prosecutor or defence attorney asks the court to rule on specific issues in a criminal case. Motions to dismiss, motions to suppress, and motions to change venue are the most frequent motions. 

If the search or surveillance violates any of your rights, the judge can decide that the prosecution cannot use any evidence collected via the unlawful search or surveillance. This might weaken the prosecution’s case and result in the dismissal or reduction of your charge. 

At this point, many of the cases were settled without moving on to the trial process. 


The fact-finder in a criminal trial decides whether the defendant committed the crime. The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is employed in criminal proceedings where there is no reasonable possibility that the defendant committed the crime in the eyes of the judge or jurors. 

Defendants are entitled to a jury for misdemeanours and felonies, though they can choose a bench trial instead, in which case the judge will make a final decision. 

However, the majority of defence attorneys never give up their right to a jury trial because, with twelve jurors rather than just one judge, the odds of at least hanging a case grow dramatically. Contested criminal infractions are decided by a judge. 

Stages of a criminal trial in California

Selecting a jury

The jury members are chosen as the first phase of the trial process, barring unusual circumstances. The judge, the plaintiff’s attorney, and the defendant’s attorney participate in the selection process. 

In a jury trial, 12 members of the community serve as the jury, which hears the prosecution’s and defence’s evidence. The jury then decides whether the prosecution met the highest legal standard of proof, establishing its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Following the presentation of all the evidence and facts, the jury evaluates the testimony and determines whether the defendant is guilty or not. 

They question potential jurors extensively about the case, including inquiries about their ideologies and past experiences. 

A potential juror might not be chosen for one of the following reasons:

  • The court disqualified the potential juror because of their responses. 
  • A person may be excluded by the defence or the prosecution using “peremptory challenges” and “challenges for cause”. 

The prosecution or defence may ask that a person not be used in the trial if a potential juror provides responses that appear biassed or unjustly favour one side over another. A fixed percentage of jurors are subject to exclusion, for example, if the jury has pre-determined notions about the defendant’s guilt or innocence, is physically capable of sitting through a trial, and is intelligent enough to comprehend the judge’s instructions. 

The trial will begin after the impartial jurors have been chosen and both parties are satisfied. 

Opening statements 

The prosecutors and defence make opening statements to start the trial. In most cases, this is the time when witnesses and evidence are not presented. 

The government’s burden of proof rests on the prosecutors to establish the defendant’s guilt. Because of this, the opening statement from the prosecution is frequently made first. The goal of the prosecution’s opening statement is to establish the facts of the case and demonstrate how and why the defendant committed the crime. 

The opening statement is used by the defence to dispute the facts presented by the prosecution and cast doubt on the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The opening statements are the only time for discussion. 

Witness testimony and cross-examination

The testimony of witnesses is a significant piece of evidence in a criminal trial. Cross-examination determines whether a case is won or lost. Cross-examination is seen as the only way to truly discover the truth and is one of the constitutional rights. Both the defence and the prosecution call on their witnesses to bolster their case.

The witness is sworn in after being called to the stand in the witness testimony process, which goes as follows:

  • The questions were posed by the party who called the witness to the stand. Information supporting the party’s viewpoint is gathered through direct examinations. 
  • The opposing party has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness after the examination to undermine their credibility. To do this, the attorney will make an effort to find flaws in the witnesses. 
  • Following the conclusion of the cross-examination, the original party has the option to re-direct in order to undo any harm done during the cross-examination.

Each party can offer and dispute evidence. Both sides “rest,” and the trial advances into closing arguments when neither party has any additional evidence to present or dispute. 

Closing arguments

Both the prosecution and the defence are permitted to make remarks that summarise the case and the evidence, very much like the opening remarks. It is their last opportunity to make arguments that will sway the jury in their favour. 

During the course of arguments, either attorney may bring up a few particular topics.

  • a summary of the law or the case’s elements; 
  • an explanation of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof;
  • a summary of the evidence;
  • interferences that are logically supported by the evidence;
  • the veracity of the testimony or other evidence;
  • the prosecution’s case’s strengths and weaknesses or the defendant’s response;
  • requesting that the jury uphold the law and declare the defendants guilty or not guilty;

The attorney may not produce any evidence that was not referred to in the trial or even make any inflammatory comments.

Jury instruction

The judge teaches the jury the law, the components they must take into account for each accusation, and the standard of proof that the prosecution must meet to establish guilt. For instance, if the jury accepts the state’s account of the facts, the instruction might direct them to find the prisoner guilty; however, if the jury believes it is as likely that the defendant did not commit the crime, they would be instructed to find the defendant not guilty.

Jury instructions are frequently adapted from federal or state models. The pattern instructions for the judge considerations are frequently revised by each party, although they may draft their own. Jury instructions are particularly crucial during appeals, when mistakes could lead to an excessive conviction.

Jury deliberation and announcement of the verdict

Jury deliberation is the most excruciating phase of the trial process, other than waiting for the trial to start. 

The judge gives the jury instructions, and they deliberate throughout the final stage. The jury deliberates the case in secret while applying the law to the facts and available evidence. The jury tries to come to a consensus on whether the defendant is guilty or not.  They decide on a verdict and provide it to the judge in a signed jury verdict. 

In California, a retrial will take place with a different joy if the jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision regarding guilt or innocence (this situation is known as a “hung jury”). 

The following are grounds on which the defence attorney may ask the court for a new trial:

  • Legal errors made by the judge,
  • Prosecutorial misconduct,
  • The judge allowing certain contentious or illegally obtained evidence to be heard,
  • Improper jury instructions.

Post-conviction appearances

When a probationary period is granted, whether for a misdemeanour or a felony, the offender frequently has some affirmative obligations to fulfil. 

These can include performing community service, going to counselling, learning how to control your anger, paying fines and fees, or any other reasonable conditions the judge imposes. Usually, judges wish to set deadlines for the defendant to fulfil their commitments. At these times, many defendants opt to represent themselves, although some do so instead, particularly if they are not strictly compliant. The judge may conclude that the offender violated the terms and conditions of their probation and sentence them to additional punishment. The government has the burden of proving that a defendant violates probation at a formal hearing where a defendant is accused of violating probation. 

Sentence hearing

After a guilty judgement, the sentence may be given right away or delayed until a hearing at a later time. If the defendant is found guilty, both sides present evidence to the judge and discuss the proper punishment in the circumstances. Each side’s proposal may be backed up by evidence and testimony. The judge has the final say on the matter of sentencing. The judge’s discretion is constrained in cases where the law specifies the sentence in detail. The judge has a lot of leeway in deciding the appropriate sentence for other offences. The most 

Common forms of punishment are fines, probation, detention, and community service, among others. When a sentence’s application to a particular case changes, the sentence is modified.


The entire court process, starting from the creation of the report to the conclusion of the case, is very lengthy and may take months or years to resolve/ complete the trial. It is always advisable to effectively and legally monitor each stage of the trial to find a better result. 

When someone is alleged to have committed criminal charges in California, it is better to appoint a qualified California defence lawyer who has a competent and trained defence attorney that develops a successful defence strategy depending upon the circumstances of the case. 

If there is a trial procedure, then it is important to hire a trial lawyer who understands how to win a case and will naturally have a higher probability of convincing the prosecution to provide a favourable agreement.

Meanwhile, people are more aware of the trial presently as compared to earlier days. Sometimes, it should make it easier for the judges, attorneys, researchers, and other legal advocates involved in the justice system to ascertain what additional information needs to be learned, what questions relating to the case need to be asked, and what additional work needs to be done.


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