Misdemeanor Charges

Jose H. Varela, Public Defender
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In Custody

If you are taken into custody when you are arrested, the police may want to talk with you about your case. Before talking with you, the police must tell you the following (often referred to as a Miranda advisement):

  • You have the right to remain silent
  • Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law
  • You have the right to talk to an attorney and to have an attorney present before and during questioning
  • If you can't afford an attorney, one will be appointed free of charge to represent you if you desire

Do not talk to the police about your case. Tell the police that you do not want to talk to them about your case and that you want an attorney. Then, say no more. You are entitled to a phone call.

However, except for attorney calls, your jail phone calls are recorded! Do not discuss the case, or anything related to it, with anyone other than your attorney. Likewise, your jail visits can be audiotaped.

Arraignment

The very first court appearance is called the arraignment. At the arraignment, the court provides you or your private attorney with a copy of the complaint. The complaint is a written document, filed by the prosecutor, accusing you of one or more crimes. If you can't afford a private attorney, the court typically refers you to the Public Defender's Office and gives you a date to come back to court with an attorney and to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

If you are in jail, an attorney from the Public Defender's Office will visit you to determine whether or not you qualify financially for the services of the Public Defender.

If you are out of custody, you will go to the Public Defender's Office at Room 139, Marin Hall of Justice, 3501 Civic Center Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903, and an attorney will conduct a financial evaluation in the Public Defender's Office. At this first meeting, your attorney will briefly discuss your case and your history. If there is no police report available, the attorney may wait to obtain the police report before talking with you in more detail about what happened in your case.

Appointment of Counsel and Entry of Plea

At the next court date, the Public Defender's Office is officially appointed as counsel of record on your case (if you qualify for our services).Public Defender cases are called at 10:30 am, usually in Department M. Non-English speaking clients are usually called on the 2:00 pm calendar. If you are out of custody, you may want to call the office at (415) 473-6321, to discuss the case with the assigned attorney before your court date.

On your court date: it is very important that you come to Room 139, the Public Defender's Office, between 9:00 am and 9:30 am. Non-English speaking misdemeanor clients who require a translator should be in the office by 1:00 pm. one hour before the 2:00 pm calendar begins. The hour before court is the time you will meet with your attorney and discuss the best way to approach your case.

Change of Plea or Trial Setting

After you have been accepted as a Public Defender client, your attorney will speak to the prosecutor (District Attorney) about possible ways to resolve your case short of trial. This process, called plea bargaining, simply gives you additional information and choices to make about how you wish to handle your case.

A District Attorney offer typically is in the form of if the defendant will plead guilty now to the charge we want him to plead guilty to, then the prosecution will dismiss other counts in the complaint or reduce the penalties.

If you take the offer, then the prosecutor does:

  • not have to reassign the case to another prosecutor,
  • not have to prepare the case for trial,
  • not have to interview witnesses,
  • not have to bring the witnesses to court,
  • not have to bring the evidence brought to court, and
  • law enforcement officers do not have to come to court.

Therefore, the bargain for a prosecutor in a plea bargain is that it saves the prosecutor work, and it saves the courts time and money. Of course, whether the offer is a bargain for you is something that you will discuss with your lawyer. But the decision whether to accept or reject a prosecutor's offer of a plea bargain is.

If you accept the offer by the prosecutor, then a number of things happen. First, you will review with an attorney the contents of a change of plea form. After you initial and sign the change of plea form, you will give it back to your lawyer who will review it, sign it. The change of plea form is then given to the judge. The judge will show you the change of plea form and ask you questions about it such as: Are these your initials?; Is that your signature? This form says you want to plea guilty to count 1, is that what you want to do?; and, other questions to make sure you know and understand what you are doing and that the plea is what you want to do.

If you do not accept the District Attorney's offer, then you will set the case for trial or some other kind of hearing. At trial, 12 members of the community will listen to the evidence and decide whether or not you are guilty of the charge(s) beyond a reasonable doubt.

Trial

If you are in custody you are entitled to a trial within 30 days from the date of your arraignment. If you are out of custody you are entitled to a trial within 45 days. In either situation, you may waive your right to a speedy trial and postpone the date beyond these time limits. This timing is a strategic question to discuss with your attorney.

Do not talk to anyone about your case, other than your attorney. If you talk to other persons, they may later be forced to testify against you. This includes family and friends.

Your lawyer will want to talk with you as soon as possible about the case.

To help him or her, please write or print the following:

  • Any questions you have.
  • The names of all witnesses.
  • The nicknames or other names the witnesses are known by, if any.
  • The addresses of all witnesses.
  • The telephone number of all witnesses.
  • The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of people who can tell the court something favorable about either the facts of the case or about you, the accused, personally.

If you are out of custody, please telephone the Public Defender's office at (415) 499-6321 as soon as possible to make an appointment to discuss your case with your attorney.

Sentencing

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor either by pleading guilty, or at trial, the judge will sentence you. Misdemeanor sentencing can include a combination of many things, depending on the crimes and facts involved, and your personal history. Typical court orders include such items as:

  • Jail, actual or suspended.
  • Jail alternatives, such as community service
  • Probation orders, which can be informal, such as lead a law abiding life for the next number of years, or formal, such as follow all the instructions ordered by your Probation Officer.
  • Restitution (paying back anyone injured, or paying a sum to various community funds to prevent crime and such).
  • Fines or their alternatives.
  • Counseling, treatment, or education programs (drinking driver programs, or domestic violence programs, for example).

Please be certain you understand all of the terms of your sentence, and comply with them. We recommend you keep a "diary" or personal record so you can keep track of all you have done. Ask your lawyer to explain anything that seems confusing.