Legal Guide

Criminal Justice System in Orange County

It is the right of every person to know about the laws of his country. Keeping in view this requirement, some information regarding the criminal justice system in Orange County is discussed here. The justice system is complicated and consisting of many legal terminologies and clauses. By reading this article, you will be able to get some basic information about the criminal justice system in Orange County. This article does not offer a legal solution or advice because it does not offer complete information. So, it is advisable to get some basic information from this article and get support from Orange County Criminal lawyers. Some of the information can also be found on the websites of the Superior Court of California.

The government files a case in court against a person who commits a crime. The court can give an order to arrest and punish him. In legal terminology, the named defendant is given to the person who commits a crime. He can be sent to jail or prison as punishment. But to get such punishments, the defendant should be guilty of the crime. There are the following three types of criminal cases. 

  1. Infractions and violation

Minor violations are termed infractions. Many traffic violations are infractions. All infractions usually include less serious sanctions and fines.  The jail sentence can be for 15 days. These minor violations are handled by the police department and are also called “petty offenses”. 

  1. Misdemeanor

These are small crimes but punishment can be 6-12 months. The defendant can also get a fine of $1000. Following are some crimes which are considered as the misdemeanor.

  1. Driving under influence of alcohol
  2.  Driving with a suspended license
  3. Petty theft
  4. Vandalism
  1. Felonies

Felonies include serious crimes. The defendant can be sent to jail for 12 months or more than a year. The imprisonment can be to jail or state prison if found guilty. The death penalty for a serious crime can also be given to the defendant. Following are some examples.

  1. Murder
  2. Rape
  3. Robbery
  4. Illegal drug sale and possession


This is the first step in the criminal process. Police can arrest people involved in alcoholic driving, felony, or misdemeanor. A police officer prepares the report of committed crimes and arrests. The police officer can release the defendant by issuing him an appearance ticket is involved in a less serious crime. With an appearance ticket, a defendant is asked to appear in court later.  In case when no appearance ticket is issued, the defendant remains in police custody.

Arresting police officer sends the initial report to the District Attorney’s Officer (DAO). The District Attorney Officer investigates the case and prosecutes all offenses in Orange County. The DAO takes two actions according to the nature of the crime. These are

  • Defers prosecution authority to police officers for the majority of traffic violations
  • Defers municipals attorneys for the violation of the municipal ordinance

 The District Attorney Officer is helped by many assistants called Assistant District Attorneys Officers (ADAO). Orange County has 2 ADAOs that remain on call 24/7 throughout the year. These ADAOs get help and support from a district attorney investigator who also remains on call. ADAOs work when the District Attorney Office is closed. Functions of these on-call District Attorneys are given below.

  1. They respond to major crime
  2. Answer queries raised by the Police department
  3. They also recommend the amount of bail in a particular case


Defendant’s first appearance in court is called an arraignment. During an arraignment, the defendant is informed about the following.

  • Charges against him
  • Bail determination
  • Some of the rights of the defendant
  • Next appearance in the court

Defendants can attend arraignment without an attorney. Defendants attend the second appearance in the court usually with an attorney.

Bail setting

To understand the bail set, understand the following points.

  • ADAOs set the bail and request the judge that bail is set after justifying bail conditions
  • The judge set the bail to secure the defendant’s appearance
  • The money amount of the bail is either cash or bond

The Court considers the following factors to set the bail. 

  1. The severity of charges on the defendant
  2. Defendant’s previous criminal record
  3. Defendant’s ties to the community
  4. Defendant’s prior history to return to court
  • If the defendant does not post bail then he is kept in the Orange County Jail till next appearance in court. On the other hand, the defendant is released if he posts amount of bail
  • The court can release the defendant on his recognizance if the court feels that bail is unnecessary.
  • If the court feels that the chances of the defendant’s return are poor then the defendant is kept in custody and is not sent to jail.
  • In petty offenses and misdemeanor cases, the court is required to set the bail or release the defendant on a recognizance basis.
  • In some felony cases, bail is set by the county or supreme court

After the Arraignment

  1. Misdemeanor and violation cases

Local criminal courts have the authority to solve all violation cases and misdemeanors. Local courts are responsible for the following

  1. Pretrial motion
  2. Discovery
  3. Accept guilty pleas after arraignment
  4. Assignment of the counsel
  5. Trial and sentencing
  1. Felony cases
  1. The local court can release the defendant on a recognizance basis or send him to jail instead of bail.
  2. The defendant is indicted by a grand jury if sent to jail. There are chances that the grand jury is unable to indict the defendant for several days. If this happens then a preliminary hearing is started in the local court.
  3. The judge evaluates the evidence and determines whether this evidence is enough for the committed felony at the preliminary hearing
  4. The defendant can remain in custody if there is enough evidence to hold the defendant for grand jury action
  5. The court has the authority to either reduce the case to a misdemeanor or dismiss it based on evidence for grand jury action. This does not mean that case is over because the case can still be presented to Grand Jury.
  6. The district attorney can decide not to prosecute the case as a felony. In this situation he requests the local criminal court to reduce the felony charges to non-felony charges and the case will be prosecuted in local courts.
  7. If the Grand Jury indicts the case the further proceedings are held in County Court.

Grand Jury Proceedings

The grand jury files the indictment in the county court. After this, all proceedings like the arraignment, bail, and pretrial proceedings are conducted in County Court in the same way as described before. County courts can take some additional steps which are given below.

  1. The persecutor gives copies of the indictment and other legal documents to the defendant at County Court.
  2. The defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty to the indictment
  3. Bail may be reviewed and different conditions are set


 To prove the guilty of the charged offense, the prosecutor has to present strong evidence in the trials. The evidence presented in the trial can be in the following forms.

  1. Testimony of evidence
  2. Physical evidence like guns, photographs, or Video
  3. Scientific evidence


The judges give sentences according to the circumstances of the specific case. Sentencing can be after the plea or trial which can take several weeks. A person can be sentenced to the following.

  1. Incarceration
  2. Probation
  3. Fine
  4. A combination of above

Appeal to Appellate court

The defendant has the right to appeal against his conviction. He can also appeal against sentences. Both conviction and sentence can be appealed to the appellant court. The appellate court can reverse the judgment of conviction. If this happens then the defendant can withdraw his plea. There are possibilities of the new trial, a verdict may stand out, and resentencing

On the other hand, the district attorney may appeal an illegal sentence, a dismissal by the judge before the start of the trial, and a ruling by the judge due to which he is unable to prosecute a case.

It is very difficult to understand and deal with the complicated process of criminal cases. So, it is advisable to get support from an experienced lawyer to get results in your favor.

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