California State and Federal District and Appellate Courts
The Federal Criminal Courts are comprised of:
- U.S. Supreme Court
- U.S. Courts of Appeals
- U.S. District Courts
- U.S. Magistrate Courts
Federal criminal offenses are often very serious and are distinguishable as an act which has been criminalized by the US Congress. Federal rules of procedure often differ from state courts. Experience in Federal Courts is a must and knowledge of the rules and procedures is vital in the defense of criminal charges. Each federal judge often has their own individual rules of procedure and requirements as how they run their calendars and court. Federal sentencing guidelines are complicated and require expertise to take advantage of the opportunities to reduce the sentences and to obtain the successful plea agreements. The trial procedures and rules of evidence must be thoroughly known and carefully followed by the defense attorney.
Defendants may be exposed to state and federal prosecutions for same crime. Although it rarely happens, prosecution by both does not violate the double jeopardy clause of the United States Constitution. Forfeiture of property and money and prosecution for the criminal conduct also does not violate the double jeopardy clause.
Three main indicators as to whether you are facing the state or federal charges:
- Investigating agency
- Type of crime
- The quantity of controlled substances ( drugs or marijuana )
- The place the crime was committed ( Federal lands across U.S. boarders ) and the method used ( i.e. U.S. Mail ).
- Court in which a defendant is charged
Federal law enforcement agencies include:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Internal Revenue Service (CID)
- United States Secret Service
- United States Postal Service Inspector
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- Environmental Protection Agency Enforcement
- Department of Homeland Security
- United States Marshals Service
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire Arms
- United States Customs Service
- Immigration and Naturalization Service
Sometimes a state law enforcement agency will initially bring charges on a case that is then later taken over by a federal agency. The type of crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the federal government most often concern large amounts of money or drugs and involve crossing state lines.
Crimes routinely prosecuted in federal courts are:
- Controlled substances offenses ( cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, ecstasy, etc. )
- Mail Fraud
- Immigration Offenses
- Wire Fraud
- Public corruption
- Bank fraud
- Securities fraud
- Money laundering
- Tax crimes
- Interstate Drug Sales or where large amounts of drugs are involved
- Export / Importing Crimes
- Conspiracy to commit any of the above crimes
- Real estate fraud
- Bank robberies
Federal Courts have a more formal atmosphere than most State Courts. Federal judges are appointed for life by the President of the United States with Senate confirmation. Federal Courts require strict adherence to their court procedures and laws are often quite different than in State Courts. In California the search and seizure laws musty adhere to the Federal rules and criminal procedures due to passage of California’s Proposition 8 passed several years ago. Criminal defense attorneys must know the Federal rules of search and seizure in order to be effective and successful in defending clients in the California State Courts as well as the Federal Courts.
If convicted of a federal crime, a defendant must serve approximately 85 % of the imposed sentence plus a period of supervised parole.
Sentences are based upon the type of crime and the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
The judges are no longer required to impose the sentences called for by the guidelines however they are considered the most controlling factor to be considered when imposing the punishment. The guidelines were created by a sentencing commission established by the United States Congress. Please refer to the Margolin Guide to State and Federal Marijuana Laws ( available here on my web site ) to read the examples of sentencing guidelines in cases involving marijuana offenses. Sentencing for all of the Federal Drug crimes are determined by converting the amount of drugs involved into the level of sentencing ranges based on the marijuana sentencing guidelines . In the U.S. Federal Guidelines you will find the conversion of the type of drug and amounts converted to the weights referenced on the marijuana sentencing guidelines to determine the recommended the sentence to be imposed.
The first court proceeding after arrest or notice to appear in the Federal system is the arrangement in the Magistrate Court. Arraignment is where the defendant and his counsel are advised of the charges and the rights afforded to a defendant. A complaint is presented to the Magistrate and the defendant which describes the facts. circumstances of the allegations and the offenses charged. Bail is first considered at this time and in cases where the potential sentence is ten years or more there is a presumption that there will be detention without bail be allowed. Please note that I have in several recent Federal cases where I was successful in having bail set bail notwithstanding the governments request for detention without bail and the presumption . See the Margolin Guide to State of California and Federal Marijuana Laws here on this web site for information about Federal and State Bail amount ranges. Drug offenses can be charged in either and both Federal Courts and State Courts. However unless there are very large quantities involved ( i.e. 1000s of marijuana plants ) drug cases are usually prosecuted in state court. During the period in which the case is in magistrate proceedings level a preliminary hearing is set however almost without exception the an indictment will be sought from the Grand Jury. This is done so that the prosecution can avoid a preliminary hearing before the magistrate which would allow cross examination of witnesses , etc. Plea negotiations may be sought to avoid charges and obtain plea bargains in some cases. After the proceeding on the complaint have been completed if the case is not resolved by dismissal or disposition the matter proceeds to the US district court upon the filling of an indictment. In the Federal District Court motions to suppress evidence , and other important pre trial motions may be appropriate and which can result in dismissal of the charges. Plea agreements are often obtained otherwise the case must proceed to trial in the District Court. California has four District courts. Central, Northern , Eastern and Southern . I am a member of all of them for many years and have defended my clients in each one .
California State Courts
There are two levels of prosecutions in California State court.
Complaint proceedings which may include preliminary hearing , motions to suppress evidence based on illegal search and seizure, discovery motions , Pitchess motion, etc. … and/or , seeking a successful plea bargain if appropriate and in the best interest of and the desire of the client.
Proceedings upon the filling of an Information in the trial court. Here, motions such as to suppress evidence may be sought per 1538.5 Penal Code, 995 P.C. motion to dismiss, Mower motion to dismiss the charges brought against medical marijuana patients and other pre trial motions which may result in dismissal of the charges. A full defense may be put on at the preliminary hearing however the usual tactic is to get the magistrate/ judge to dismiss by keeping out damaging testimony and evidence and thereby keep the prosecution from meeting their burden to show probable cause that a crime has been committed and there is sufficient reason to believe that the defendant committed it. Plea bargains may be sought if it is in the best interest of the client and subject to their absolute approval and agreement. Thereby avoiding the trial and proceeding on all of the alleged charges filled and the potential consequences of a more severe sentence after trial if the defendant is not acquitted.
A document called a Complaint is filled by the prosecutors’ office in misdemeanor cases and is also used in the first stage of prosecution for felony cases. In misdemeanor cases, the entire criminal proceedings are based on the complaint including the trial ( if any ). Misdemeanors are crimes which are punishable only by incarceration in the county jail and up to one year. Unlike felonies, there is no opportunity for a preliminary hearing.
Felonies are offenses which are punishable by imprisonment in State Prison or county jail.
State prison punishments are 16 months and above.
In felony matters, the complaint proceedings includes the preliminary hearing.
At the preliminary hearing the prosecutor must establish probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that there is reasonable belief that the defendant committed the offense otherwise the case must be dismissed. If the judge fails to dismiss a 995 P.C. motion can be filled in the trial court to dismiss the case based upon the preliminary transcript , In all criminal misdemeanor and felony courts a court reporter is there to write down all that occurs at any and all hearings . That writing is called a transcript and is prepared automatically in felony preliminary hearings .
The charges may also be dismissed because the evidence was illegally seized or the judge is convinced that the defendant has established a defense.
If the charges are not dismissed or a plea bargain has not been reached, the prosecution must file a document called an Information in the trial court.
In the trial court the charges still may be dismissed due to illegally seized evidence and for several other reasons. Of course a plea bargain may be reached , otherwise the matter proceeds to trial.
There are statistics that indicate 90 % of all felony cases end by plea bargain or dismissal before trial.
In 1903, California became the seventh state to enact a juvenile court act, which provided for a separate court jurisdiction and hearings over dependent, neglected and delinquent children.
Juvenile Courts handle cases where the accused is a minor under 18 years old. However when the alleged crime is very serious, juveniles over 16 may be sent to the adult courts for prosecution.
Juveniles may be kept in confinement until age 25.
There are several types of alternatives to confinement in the prisons including:
- Home on probation
- Camp placement
- Placement in foster homes or other suitable facilities
Currently, Juvenile Delinquency courts located at ten sites throughout Los Angeles County.
Appellate Courts determine if the defendant’s conviction is subject to being reversed and they can also reverse decisions made by courts during which time the case is pending by the use of a writ.
Both state and federal appellate courts are usually restricted to examining whether the court below made the correct legal determinations, rather than hearing direct evidence and determining what the facts of the case were.
Only a small proportion of trial court decisions result in appeals.
Military Courts have jurisdiction over offenses committed by military personnel . These courts have their own rules and procedures that differ greatly from the State and Federal court systems. Military personal may also be charged in State Courts even though the accused is in the military. For example DUI , etc.