It is not uncommon for felony cases to go on for months or even years in some cases, depending on the complexity or the number of defendants. The bottom line is, anyone charged with a felony should expect their case to take at least several months, and often more than that.
Everyone has the right to a speedy trial, but in California, with a misdemeanor charge that is defined as within 45 calendar days from the day they were arraigned if they’re not in custody, or 30 days if they are in custody. However, most people waive their right to a speedy trial, in order to mount a good defense.
For a felony case, a person has the right to have a preliminary hearing within 10 court dates of the day they entered their plea if they’re in custody, so a felony case can move pretty quickly if the defendant is in custody and did not want to waive their right to a speedy preliminary hearing. Often, the defendant won’t want to do that while in custody because they are hoping to get the charges reduced and get out as soon as possible.
After the preliminary hearing process, the person would be re-arraigned and they have the right to have a jury trial within 60 calendar days of the date they were arraigned, so that would be the soonest they could have the trial.
The Court Process and Witnesses
In California, the first major step for a felony charge is a preliminary hearing, also known as a probable cause hearing, which is like a mini-trial. The district attorney will subpoena witnesses, usually the police officers, who testify live in front of the judge about their report or about the arrest. The defense may then ask the witnesses questions under cross-examination to try to poke holes in the case, establish a defense, or establish any mitigating factors in the case.
After the evidence had been heard, the judge will decide whether there was enough probable cause to believe that the crime had occurred and that the defendant committed it. If the judge makes these findings, the defendant will be “held to answer” on the charges. The judge may also dismiss or reduce some counts if the evidence warrants it. This hearing can be a good time to ask the judge to reevaluate the bail if the person is in custody.
The Filing of The Information
The next step is the filing of the information, which typically occurs two weeks after the preliminary hearing. At the filing of information, the district attorney files another charging document similar to the complaint, called “The Information.” That document will list all the charges and any enhancements to the information
The person appears in court with their attorney at the filing of information to again enter pleas of not guilty. It is then that the judge will ask if the defendant would like the case set for trial within the speedy trial time of 60 days or whether they would like to set the trial later.
Just because a case was set for trial doesn’t mean it will actually go to trial. Judges like to set the date as a placeholder in case settlement negotiations break down or there is no resolution of the case. It gives them a date to start the trial.
The Jury Trial
At a jury trial, the prosecution must prove to the 12 jurors unanimously beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime had been committed by the defendant. Just because the person was held to answer at the preliminary hearing, which has a much lower standard, does not mean the person will be convicted at a jury trial.