Criminal Defense Attorneys in Orange County Guide
What are the OC California Criminal Defense Basics?
The Criminal defense attorneys in Orange County explain: Criminal defense is a field of criminal law in which the accused may work with a criminal defense attorney to find evidence, which negates the elements of a crime. This evidence creates a defense, generally intended to prove the lack of guilt on the part of the accused.
Because of the complexities of criminal law and the potential seriousness of a conviction, it is important to consult a skilled California criminal defense lawyer if you’re facing criminal charges in California.
What Makes a Case Criminal Rather than Civil in Nature?
A criminal case begins when the government files a case with the Court to punish the defendant, or the accused person, for a crime they allegedly committed. If the defendant is facing a charge of misdemeanor or felony, they have a right to a lawyer. If the defendant is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, they will be convicted and sentenced. Sentences may include jail time, fines, or other punishments depending on the crime.
A civil case, unlike a criminal case, is between two individuals or businesses, rather than an individual or business and the government. Either party can initiate a case based on a dispute between the two, and must prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence. If the judge or jury can be convinced by either party, they can win the case. If the accused is found guilty, they may be ordered to relinquish money or property to the other party, but neither will go to jail.
Adult Crimes and Juvenile Crimes in Orange County
When a person under 18 is accused of breaking the law, he or she is usually charged with juvenile delinquency, which is handled in juvenile court. Depending on the minor’s age, prior record, and the seriousness of the crime, a juvenile can be charged as an adult.
It is always in the minor’s best interest to be charged as a juvenile, and if your child is facing charges, you should consult a juvenile crime lawyer who can help ensure that he or she is charged appropriately.
The following information is relevant to those who are facing adult criminal charges in California. Those facing juvenile charges should consult our page on juvenile crimes, juvenile courts, and juvenile law.
What is the Difference Between an Infraction, a Misdemeanor, and a Felony?
Infractions are generally considered minor violations, like a minor traffic violation. Punishment for an infraction usually does not include jail time if the required fine is paid.
A misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction, but not quite as serious as a felony. Misdemeanors in California include petty theft, driving on a suspended license, driving under the influence of alcohol, or vandalism. A misdemeanor carries a maximum punishment of six months to one year in a county jail, and/or a $1,000 fine.
A felony is the most serious type of crime, and leads to the most serious consequences. Examples of California felonies include robbery, murder, rape, or the sale of controlled substances. A felony can carry punishments of jail or prison for a year or longer, and in some cases the death penalty.
Those facing a felony or misdemeanor charge have the right to legal counsel. If the accused cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one on his or her behalf.
What are Your Legal Rights Regarding Police and Arrests in Orange County California?
Your Rights when Dealing with the Police
If the officer does not suspect you of a crime, you are not obligated to consent to a search or to answer questions. However, if you do agree to talk to the officer or consent to a search, any information the officer finds can be used against you or others in Court. You can withdraw consent and stop talking at any point.
If you are driving, you may be required to present identification to the police even if no crime is suspected.
The officer must read you your Miranda Rights only when you are in custody and being interrogated, and not until then. That means that if you are free to walk away from the officer, he or she does not have to recite your rights.
If you are unsure about your rights, silence may be your best option when dealing with the police.
If the driver of a vehicle has been stopped for a traffic offense, the officer has the option to arrest the driver. If the officer has a reasonable belief that there is a weapon in the vehicle, he or she can search the vehicle or frisk the person suspected of carrying the weapon.
What you Should Know about Arrests in Orange County California
A person is under arrest when he or she reasonably believes that personal liberties and the freedom to leave police custody are not available to them. Physical restraint or a police statement of arrest will not be not required.
Thus, an arrest depends on the detained individual’s perception of the situation, and can occur even if the individual voluntarily walked into the police station without being asked. Not all detentions constitute an arrest.
A police officer can make an arrest only when the police have gathered enough evidence to establish probable cause, or a reasonable belief that the person under arrest has committed a crime.
An arrest may be made at the time the crime was committed, in some cases the offender was witnessed committing the crime. In other cases, an investigation may be needed to determine probable cause that the suspect committed the crime. When there is an investigation, an arrest warrant will be issued for the suspect’s arrest, and the police can arrest the suspect at any time.
If you are put under arrest in the United States and questioned by the police, you have the right to be informed of your rights. You may have seen this on television; these are called your Miranda Rights, and they inform you of the following:
• You have the right to remain silent;
• You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning, whether or not you can afford one;
• You have the right to speak to us at any point, with or without an attorney, but be advised that anything you say or do can be used against you in a court of law;
• You must respond and let the officer know that you understand these rights.
If your rights are not recited to you accurately after you are arrested and are being questioned, anything you say or do is usually inadmissible in a court of law.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Criminal Charges in Orange County California?
California has a criminal statute of limitations that places a limit on how long a prosecutor can wait from the time the crime was discovered until the government files formal criminal charges.
Generally, felonies including murder, any offense that could carry a sentence of death of life in prison, and embezzlement of public funds have no statute of limitations. Due to the seriousness of these crimes charge for any of these crimes can be initiated at any time.
Lesser felonies that could lead to eight or more years in prison have a statute of limitations of six years.
Felonies that are punishable by imprisonment of up to, but no more than eight years have a statute of limitation of three years.
Misdemeanors usually have a statute of limitations of one year. However, if the misdemeanor is committed on a person under 14 years old, the statute of limitations is extended to three years, and if the crime is sexual exploitation by a physician or a therapist, it is extended to two years.
An Overview of Orange County California Criminal Law
California criminal law is defined by criminal statutes. In many ways they are similar to the laws of other states, but it is always necessary to understand the laws of your city and state. Although medical marijuana law is slowly spreading across the U.S., recreational use is not a serious offense, and marijuana possession in California is only punishable by a small fine. Even so, California prisons are still overcrowded, and have received many complaints of inhumane treatment and conditions.
Keep in mind that the following are brief overviews of the law, and are not a substitute by any means for the advice of a qualified California criminal defense attorney. If you’re facing criminal charges, it is in your best interest to discuss your case and your options with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Orange County Crimes Related to Theft and Larceny
In California, theft, or larceny, is a crime against property.
In order to prove that theft has occurred, the prosecutor is required to establish that the accused person had intent to permanently take and keep the property or the right to the property from its rightful owner.
Under California law, there are two degrees of theft: petty theft and grand theft. Petty theft, the less serious of the two, applies to theft of property, money or labor valued below $950. However, theft is considered grand theft when it meets any of the following criteria:
• The theft involves property, money or labor worth more than $950;
• The charge may be upgraded to grand theft when the theft involves more than $250 i domestic livestock, farm goods, or aqua cultural products;
• The charge may be upgraded to grand theft when the crime involved over $950 of unpaid or underpaid labor in a period of 12 months or less;
• When property was taken directly from a victim;
• When theft of a vehicle occurs;
• When a horse or livestock is stolen from the victim;
• When a firearm is stolen from the victim.
There are many types of theft for which a person can be charged, including theft of property or money. Your attorney can help you understand laws regarding petty theft, grand theft, shoplifting, embezzlement, identity theft, auto theft, burglary, home invasions, and more.
Theft and larceny convictions can lead to a variety of sentences, depending on the degree of the crime and the defendant’s prior criminal record. If the value of the stolen property is below $50, the prosecutor has the option to charge the defendant with an infraction, resulting in a $250 fine. Usually this depends on the defendant’s criminal history. Petty theft in California can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment of up to six months, or both.
Grand theft is a more serious crime, and can therefore result in more serious punishments of imprisonment in a county jail of up to one year, or a felony sentencing. A felony sentencing can vary from six months to three years in a state prison. Usually more serious sentences are reserved for those who have a criminal record.
Orange County CA Crimes Related to DUI, Driving, and Alcohol
California DUI law makes it illegal for a person 21 or over to operate a motor vehicle when their blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher. A person under 21 is not permitted to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher.
All drivers in California have given “implied consent”, by applying for a driver’s license, to submit to field sobriety testing and chemical tests used to determine a driver’s blood alcohol content. In California, refusing a chemical BAC at a DUI traffic stop can result in a citation. However, consenting to a blood draw test after refusing a breathalyzer usually invalidates the citation.
If the accused contacts an attorney immediately after a DUI arrest, there are various defenses to DUI charges in California. Any error made during the arrest or subsequent sobriety tests, as well as certain uncontrollable circumstances or health problems can discredit the evidence against the defendant.
Sentences for a DUI in California depend on the person’s DUI record.
• A first time DUI conviction can result in up to six months in jail, mandatory alcohol education, assessment and treatment, potential vehicle confiscation, and potentially a suspended license. In many cases, if you wish to reinstate your license, even a restricted version requires the rental, maintenance and use of an ignition interlock device.
• A second DUI conviction can result in up to two years in jail, fines, mandatory alcohol education assessment and treatment, potential vehicle confiscation, and potentially a suspended license. Reinstatement of your driver’s license may require the rental, maintenance, and use of an ignition interlock device.
• A third or subsequent DUI offense can result in up to ten years in prison, mandatory alcohol education, assessment and treatment, vehicle confiscation, and license suspension. An ignition interlock device is mandatory for license reinstatement.
OC California Crimes of Drug Cultivation, Manufacturing, Possession and Sale, Distribution & Recreational Use
California’s controlled substance and illegal drug laws make it a criminal offense to do any of the following:
• Plant, grow, cultivate, harvest, or prepare marijuana plants or other controlled substances and illegal drugs;
• Manufacture or process a controlled substance, illegal drug, or certain compounds or chemicals necessary to manufacture or process controlled substances and illegal drugs;
• Selling, transporting, transferring, or importing controlled substances, illegal drugs and marijuana;
In general, growing or manufacturing controlled substances and illegal drugs in California is a crime. The charges and sentences depend on the type of drug. For example:
• Possession of up to 28.5 grams of marijuana in California is considered an infraction, which is the least severe type of crime, and can result in a fine of up to $100;
• Planting, growing, cultivating, harvesting, or preparing marijuana plants without the medical recommendation of a doctor is illegal, and the resulting charges depend on whether these actions were for personal use or for sale to others.
• Manufacturing or processing marijuana, cocaine base, cocaine, hallucinogenic drugs, opium, PCP, methamphetamine and other illegal controlled substances or dangerous drugs listed in the California Penal code is prohibited. Sentencing depends on the defendant’s previous criminal history and convictions related to the current charge.
• Distribution of drugs can include prescription drugs if the defendant lacked a license to distribute the drugs, or sold them illegally.
If you are facing charges related to illegal controlled substances or dangerous drugs in California, your criminal defense lawyer can help you build a defense for your case.
For a marijuana possession or sale charge, the defendant will likely not be found guilty if the defendant has a recommendation for medical marijuana from a doctor or if the defendant is the caregiver of a medical marijuana patient, or for a person who has a recommendation for medical marijuana from a doctor.
A defendant facing drug distribution charges can claim that he or she possessed the drugs for personal use and not for distribution.
When facing drug distribution or possession charges, a defendant may claim entrapment or improper police conduct, depending on the situation.
Punishments for drug related crimes in California vary by case, but the following is intended to provide a general overview.
As stated above, possession of marijuana is one of the smallest crimes that can be committed. However, growing marijuana, especially with the intent to sell, is a serious crime. If the defendant can prove that there was no intent to sell, growing marijuana illegally is usually a misdemeanor. Growing with the intent to sell can result in a felony charge with a sentence of up to three years in county jail. Charges can vary depending on the defendant’s prior record.
Manufacturing of any controlled substance or illegal drug can constitute a felony charge, and a conviction can lead to a fine of up to $50,000, and up to seven years in a state prison. Again, charges can vary depending on the defendant’s prior criminal record.
Possession of the chemicals or compounds that are used to manufacture controlled substances and illegal drugs, like PCP or methamphetamine, can result in up to six years in a state prison, and charges can vary depending on the defendant’s criminal history and related convictions.
Transporting, importing, transferring, or selling controlled substances can result in a felony sentence and three to five years imprisonment. When the crime involves the employment of a minor in the sale or distribution of controlled substances, the sentence can be up to nine years imprisonment. Sentencing can vary based on the defendant’s prior record and the proximity of the crime to a school, school related program, or playground.
Because sentences can vary, it is always best to work with a skilled criminal defense lawyer in California who can help minimize the charges against you and build your defense.
OC California Weapon & Gun Laws
California has some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the U.S. Violations of these laws may result in a felony charge. In order to obtain a gun permit, California requires applicants to demonstrate “good moral character”, and even still, only certain weapons are legal to anyone, and some people are banned from owning guns.
In California, the following are illegal:
• Cane guns,
• Wallet guns,
• Any firearm that does not immediately appear to be a firearm,
• A shotgun with a barrel of less than 18 inches,
• A rifle with a barrel of less than 16 inches,
• A zip gun,
• Any bullets that contain explosive agents,
• Multi-burst triggers,
• Any unconventional pistols,
• Any undetectable firearms.
California has a five years to life firearm ban for any person who has been taken into custody as a danger to him or herself or to others.
California has a ten year ban for any person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor for specific violent crimes, including assault and battery or domestic violence.
California has a lifetime ban on firearms for the following persons:
• Anyone who has a felony conviction,
• Anyone who has a conviction listed by the California Department of Justice,
• Anyone who is a mentally disordered sex offender,
• Anyone who is incompetent to stand trial,
• Anyone found not guilty of any crime by reason of insanity.
Orange County California Assault Laws, Sexual assault
Assault & Battery
Under California law, assault and battery are two separate crimes.
Assault is defined in the California Penal Code as an “unlawful attempt” to inflict a “violent injury on the person of another”. Battery is the actual force or violence that is used against another person.
In order to prove assault in court, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant had intent to commit battery. In order to prove battery, the prosecutor must show that the defendant intentionally and willfully made contact with the other person.
There are various degrees of assault and battery, and usually a person is charged with both crimes, although this is not always the case. The charge will depend on the severity of the battery, and the surrounding crime. A more serious charge is aggravated assault and aggravated battery.
Common defenses against an assault or battery charge include the victim’s consent, self defense, or defense of a third party, of a home, or of personal property.
A charge of assault in California can result in a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in county jail, or both. Certain circumstances, like assault of a police officer while on duty, or assault in certain locations, like a school or public park, can result in fines of up to $2,000 and up to one year in a county jail.
A battery conviction can result in a fine of up to $2,000, up to six months in jail, or both. Like with assault convictions, certain circumstances can lead to increased penalties. A convicted person can face up to one year in jail if the battery charges are related to domestic violence, or are against certain people, like an officer on duty.
A conviction for a battery that ends in serious bodily injury can be considered a felony in California. Sentences can be up to four years, and sometimes longer, depending on the specific circumstances of the crime.
Sexual assault in California can be prosecuted under California’s sexual battery laws. Sexual assault or sexual battery laws prohibit one person from touching another person’s intimate body parts in any way. Intimate body parts, according to the law, are defined as “sexual organ, anus, groin or buttocks of any person, and the breast of a female.”
Rape occurs when a sexual assault leads to unwanted and non-consenting intercourse.
In order to prove that a person is guilty of a sexual assault, the prosecutor must prove the following:
• The defendant touched the victim’s intimate parts either through direct contact with the skin or through the victim’s clothing;
• The victim was restrained by the defendant or another person while the defendant touched his or her intimate parts;
• The touching was against the victim’s will;
• The defendant had intent. The defendant had to have touched the victim’s intimate parts for a purpose, whether it is sexual gratification, sexual arousal, or sexual abuse.
Several defenses to sexual assault and battery charges exist, if any of the above can be disproven by the defense. The most common defense is that the victim gave consent, but consent is only a viable defense if the victim was not a child or a mentally incapacitated adult.
A person in California can be charged with either misdemeanor sexual assault or battery or felony sexual assault or battery. A misdemeanor conviction can lead to up to six months in county jail, a fine of up to $2,000, or both. Fines can increase to up to $3,000 if the victim was employed by the defendant.
A felony sexual battery charge can result in up to one year in a county jail, a fine of up to $2,000, up to four years in a state prison, or up to $10,000 in fines, or any combination of the above. Prior criminal records, especially with a history of assault or battery, can lead to an increased penalty.
A Beginner’s Guide to the Criminal Prosecution Process in Orange County California
The criminal process is complex, and in many cases, can vary depending on the surrounding circumstances. The following is meant to give you an overview of the process, but does not, in any way, replace advice from a qualified California criminal defense lawyer. If you are facing criminal charges, it is imperative that you contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Arrest Reports & The Prosecutor
When an arrest is made, the arresting officer creates a police arrest report and sends it to a prosecutor. An arrest report contains the details surrounding an arrest, including dates, times, location, weather conditions, and contact information for any witnesses.
The prosecutor will review the report, and has up to 48 hours from the arrest to do one of three things. First, the prosecutor can choose to charge the arrested person with a felony or a misdemeanor, and file a complaint with the trial court. A second option is to decide that the case should be charged as a felony, in which case a trial by jury will take place. Thirdly, the prosecutor can decide that the case should not be opened, and no charges will be filed.
Grand Jury & Indictment
The decision to file charges and which charges are appropriate to file can be changed in the next month. If a felony is involved, the prosecutor may leave the decision of whether or not to file charges up to a grand jury. If they determine that charges should be filed, the individual is indicted.
The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether or not the prosecution has enough evidence to constitute a trial for a felony charge.
If the prosecutor decides, without a grand jury, to file felony charges against an individual, the defendant has the right to a preliminary hearing, at which the prosecutor presents evidence to show that the state has grounds to initiate a trial. Because the use of a grand jury eliminates the need for a preliminary hearing, it may be used as a way to skip revealing important evidence to the defense.
Like a preliminary hearing, an arraignment takes place before a trial. However, the purpose of the arraignment is for the judge to tell the defendant the following:
• What charges are being brought against the defendant;
• What constitutional rights the defendant has;
• That in the case the defendant cannot afford a lawyer; the court will appoint a lawyer for him or her.
The defendant has the opportunity to enter a plea at the arraignment:
• A guilty plea means that the defendant admits to having committed the crime. In this case, the judge will enter a conviction into the court record and serve a sentence.
• A plea of not guilty means that the defendant claims not to have committed the crime, and may be used as a defense strategy. It forces the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt during the trial, which may be difficult to do.
• A plea of no contest means the defendant is not disagreeing with the charge, and is similar to a guilty plea.
Following the arraignment, the judge may decide to release the defendant on the promise to return to court on a specified date, the judge may set bail and send the defendant to jail until bail is posted, or the judge may refuse to set bail and send the defendant back to jail.
Setting and Paying Bail in Orange County
When determining whether or not to set bail, a judge will consider whether or not the defendant is a risk to the community or whether the defendant is likely to run away and not appear in court.
If the judge decides to set bail, the amount is based on the seriousness of the crime and how likely the defendant is to appear at the next court date.
From Arraignment to Trial
In a misdemeanor case, when the defendant has entered a plea of not guilty, both the defendant and the prosecution will prepare for the trial. In a felony case, a pretrial hearing may have taken place to determine whether there was enough evidence to constitute a trial. If so, both the defense and the prosecution will prepare for trial.
Discovery - Both the defense and prosecution are required to exchange information and evidence. It is important for the defense to have an attorney at this stage, because in discovery, the defense attorney may be privy to certain information that the defendant is not.
Pretrial Motions - A pretrial motion can be filed by either the defense or the prosecution, with the intention to cancel the trial, dismiss the case, or to block certain evidence from being presented in trial.
Plea Change - The defendant can change his or her plea from not guilty to guilty or no contest.
Plea Bargains - The attorneys and the judge can discuss a way to settle the case without going to trial.
Facing a misdemeanor or felony charge gives any person the right to a trial by jury. The defendant can decide whether he or she wants a jury trial or a court trial, where the judge makes the decision rather than a jury.
If the defendant chooses a trial by jury, a court date will be set and a jury must be chosen. Both the defense and prosecution can question a pool of potential jurors and choose the ones they believe will be most fair.
At the beginning of the trial, both defense and prosecution have the opportunity to present an opening statement to the Court. During the trial, lawyers on both sides will present evidence and call witnesses to testify about what they saw, or what they know of the case. Following the presentation of evidence, lawyers have an opportunity to present a closing statement to the Court. It is then up to the jury to determine whether the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or not guilty.
A finding of “guilty” will lead to a sentencing by the judge. A finding of not guilty is called an acquittal, and leads to the defendant being released.
Post Trial Options
If you are found guilty, you have a right to an appeal. It is important to discuss this option with an attorney, especially if you believe there was an error during your trial.
Once you have served your sentence, expungement is an option that may be available to you to clear your criminal record.
Criminal Defense Attorneys in Orange County Contact Information
If you are facing criminal charges in Orange County or Los Angeles, it is always in your best interest to contact an attorney. At Yanez & Associates, our experienced Orange County & Los Angeles California criminal defense lawyers can help you build the best defense possible. Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation. To obtain California Penal codes visit leginfo.ca.gov or information on how criminal cases work.
Table of Contents
- 1 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Orange County Guide
- 2 What are the OC California Criminal Defense Basics?
- 3 What are Your Legal Rights Regarding Police and Arrests in Orange County California?
- 4 An Overview of Orange County California Criminal Law
- 5 Orange County California Assault Laws, Sexual assault
- 6 A Beginner’s Guide to the Criminal Prosecution Process in Orange County California
- 7 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Orange County Contact Information