The Judiciary’s role is to give everyone fair access to the courts to solve legal problems fairly and efficiently, decide justly the guilt or innocence of anyone charged with a crime, and interpret the laws and protect the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitutions of California and the United States. Criminal court is where you go when the state believes you have committed a crime and it files charges against you. The Criminal Court has jurisdiction over infraction, misdemeanor and felony cases. The Criminal Court conducts trials, motions, arraignments, preliminary hearings, probation hearings, mental health proceedings, and other types of criminal proceedings. In this essay I will be discussing my visit to the Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana on March 26, 2014 and my observations of the criminal proceedings in Department C58.
In the courtroom were the public defenders, the district attorneys, private attorneys, court clerks, a court reporter, a bailiff, a resident probation officer, the judge, in custody defendants, out of custody defendants, spectators in the audience and when needed an interpreter. The defendants were charged with a variety of different crimes including petty theft, drunk in public, under the influence of a controlled substance, possession of paraphernalia and more serious crimes including possession of a controlled substance for sales, possession of a fire arm, commercial burglary, forgery, fraud and counterfeiting as well as probation violations.
The judge took the bench at around 9:30 am and started with the defendants that were charged with misdemeanor offenses. The judge called each defendant’s name; each defendant would step up to the podium, the judge then gave notice of the charges the defendant was currently being accused of. On several occasions the judge called the name of a defendant that was not present, she then issued an arrest warrant for the defendant, revoking their current bail, in some cases a new bail was set but the majority of the warrant’s had no bail amount. For the defendants that were present out of custody the judge would offer the defendant a sentence for the charges and asked for the defendant’s plea to the charges.
If the defendant wished to plead not guilty to the charges, which commonly occurred, the judge then appointed the public defender’s office to represent the defendant for the matter. In several cases the defendants were charged with a misdemeanor including under the influence of a controlled substance (HS 11550 a), possession of paraphernalia (HS 11364), petty theft (PC 484 a) and drunk in public (PC 647), these defendants provided the county with a sample of their DNA, they were required to pay a $75 collection fee and then charges against them were dismissed.
After the judge completed the misdemeanor cases she moved on to the felony cases, which were more complex. Just like with the misdemeanor cases, the judge would call the name of the defendant and have them step up to the podium, she would then give them notice of the charges against them and ask if they were able to afford an attorney if they were not able to do so she then would appoint the public defender’s to represent the defendant.
The cases that I observed were in a variety of different stages of the criminal case proceedings. Theses stages included arraignments, pre trials, preliminary hearing and sentencing. In most of the cases the judge would calendar the case for a further date. In these cases the defendant is notified of their constitutional right to a speedy trial and in order to set the case for a continuance the defendant had to agree to waive this right.
The defendant’s that decided to plead guilty to their charges were notified of their constitutional rights that they would be giving up by pleading guilty to the charges these rights included the right to a jury trial, their right to a speedy trial and their right to confrontation. The judge sentenced the defendant’s to a variety of sentences including fines, restitution, diversion programs, classes, county jail time, probation and state prison. The defendant’s that were in custody and were sentenced to jail time the judge would notify the defendant of his actual credits and his good time and give the defendant how many credits he/she had towards their sentence.
If the defendant’s sentence included probation, the defendant had to agree to the terms and conditions of their probation and the judge reviewed the rights that they were giving up to be placed on probation, including the right to own a fire arm and the defendant’s search and seizure rights. In conclusion, I found my courtroom visit to be great learning experience. More specifically after visiting the courthouse and seeing our criminal justice system firsthand, I feel that I have a greater understanding of the different topics we have been learning about in class including the different stages of the criminal court proceedings, the constitutional rights each person has when charged with committing a crime and the different people involved with the criminal courts.