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The Court System -

       The court system is dependent on the nature of the criminal charge (misdemeanor, felony and infraction, ) and whether it is an adult or juvenile matter.


       Since a misdemeanor can be punished by a jail sentence, every defendant has a right to a jury trial. A jury trial is where 12 individuals from your community are selected to serve on the jury. The jury will decide the issues of fact and are to determine whether or not guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If the District Attorney agrees to waive their right to a jury trial, then you can agree to have a court trial, which is a trial by Judge.

       At your first appearance, the Judge will advise you of your constitutional rights. This appearance is usually called the arraignment. Many times the Judge will indicate a proposed sentence at the first appearance. But one of the most important rights that the Judge will advise you, is the right to an attorney. If you can't afford an attorney, the Court will refer you to the Public Defender, which can be appointed to advise and represent you. If you can afford an attorney, you can hire an attorney to advise and represent you. It is usually very important to get an attorney to advise and represent you as soon as possible.

       Misdemeanors are handled in the Superior Court, Court of Limited Jurisdiction. They used to be called Municipal Courts but as a result of court consolidation, they are now all called Superior Court.


       Felonies are initially handled as complaints in the Superior Court, Court of Limited Jurisdiction. However, if they are not resolved prior to preliminary hearing, then they are transferred to Superior Court, Unlimited Jurisdiction. As in the misdemeanor cases, the initial appearance is called an arraignment. There you will be told of your right to an attorney and all the other rights as in a misdemeanor, with the addition of the right to a preliminary hearing.

       The preliminary hearing is a hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a felony was committed and that the defendant committed the felony. The alternative to a preliminary hearing is the Grand Jury.


       Most infractions are traffic tickets. By definition, they are only punishable by fine. However, a conviction can result in a point on your DMV record, which in turn can cause your automobile insurance premium to go up. However, as a matter of law, since an infraction cannot be punished with jail, there is no right to a jury trial. You still have a right to a court trial, which is where a Judge or Traffic Commissioner will hear your case and decide whether or not you are guilty of the traffic violation. It is the same legal standard as in a jury trial, proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

       Traffic tickets are handled by traffic court. The California Courts maintain a "Self-help Center" to answer most common questions about traffic tickets.

Juvenile Court

       Juvenile crime has its own, unique court system. With the exception of certain extremely serious crimes that are transferred to the adult system, most juvenile cases are handled in the Juvenile Court, which is separate from the normal Superior Court. The Judges are still Superior Court Judges, but usually they only handle juvenile court matters. Most juvenile law deals with delinquency, which is when a minor is accused of breaking the law. The court has the power to either place your child in a facility or to let your child live with you under court supervision. Most of the decisions have to do with the age of the child and what the offense is.

       The California Courts offer a Self-help Center for parents of juveniles who are involved in a delinquency case. This web site is an excellent source for general information.

- Written by , Attorney at Law





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