California Drug Crime Hearings
Although many of those who are charged with possessing, selling, or manufacturing drugs are a danger to themselves and others, there are several defendants who are either not guilty or do not have a problem with narcotics other than the fact that they are illegal. The “War on Drugs??? has resulted in countless individuals spending extended time in jail and prison. Whether or not your judge feels you need to spend time in jail or should give you a second chance through alternative sentencing largely depends upon the crime you have been accused of committing along with your criminal history.
If you are charged with a narcotic crime in California, you may go through the traditional criminal justice system or Drug Courts. There are distinct differences between the two. Knowing what those differences are and how you can use them to your advantage could have a substantial impact on your future.
Drug Crime Hearings in Traditional Court
If you commit a violent crime or sales offense, your case will likely be heard in the traditional criminal court.
After a prosecutor files your charges, the first formal court proceeding takes place at your arraignment hearing. The initial arraignment hearing in California has to take place within 48 hours if you were arrested, or, if you do not remain in custody, your arraignment must be scheduled “without unnecessary delay.???
At the arraignment hearing the judge will tell you about the charges against you as well as your constitutional rights. When the charges against you are disclosed, you can respond to them by entering a guilty, a not guilty, or a no contest plea. After you enter your plea and if you remain in custody, the judge will also decide to release you from custody, set a bail, or refuse to do either. Finally, the judge will set up the date for your preliminary hearing.
The second stage of the criminal court process is the preliminary hearing. The goal of the preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is enough evidence to hold a trial and make you answer for the alleged charge or charges. No matter what stage of the process that you are in, hiring a drug crime lawyer will help you to better understand the process and will prepare your defense. It is a good idea to have a defense attorney at this stage because experienced lawyers may be able to convince the judge that there is not enough evidence to proceed.
Before the trial, the prosecutor and your defense will go into a “discovery??? stage and will exchange information and facts about your case. Both sides can file pretrial motions, such as the motion to dismiss the entire case, exclude the particular evidence, etc. During discovery, both sides can also agree to resolve the case without going to trial.
Your trial must begin within 60 days from the second arraignment. You are also allowed to “waive??? your right to a speedy trial; however, this is rarely a good idea to do so.
At the trial, it is presumed that you are innocent and it is the prosecutor’s job to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As a defendant you are entitled to the following rights during your trial:
- Have a jury trial
- Have an attorney to represent you
- Remain silent
- Have a public and speedy trial
- Confront witness
- Not be tried again for the same narcotic crime
During the trial, both sides can present evidence and witnesses as well as give the opening statement about the case and the closing arguments after all evidence has been presented. Finally, the jury–if you have chosen to have the trial by jury or the judge–will decide if you are guilty or not.
Drug Court in California
California Drug Court is the alternative to traditional criminal courts and allows nonviolent offenders to handle their case in a way that is geared more towards rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Drug courts in California have been established in the early 90s and now there are around 203 of them in the state.
If you have committed a non-violent offense that involves a personal possession, you may qualify for participation in a drug court program. However, even if you are charged with a sales offense, you may still be allowed to participate in this program if the courts determine that it is in your best interest.
These courts are less formal than traditional criminal courts. Courts are loosely structured, which allow each court a flexibility in deciding how to operate and run its programs.
They work using different models, such as Adult Courts (the focus is on adult offenders, who are provided with intensive treatment for at least one year), Dependency Courts (the treatment is provided to addicted parents) and Juvenile Courts (the treatment is provided to minor users and their families).
Drug Courts in California have the following requirements that need to be fulfilled if you wish to stay in the program instead of going through the traditional criminal justice system:
- Submit to the required treatment or any other services required by the judge that would help you to stop using
- Submit to random narcotic detection tests
- Regularly appear in the court to inform the judge on your progress
- Maintain a steady employment
- Getting rewards for doing well or being punished for not fulfilling the program’s requirements
- Participate in narcotic education
Since drug courts in California decide how to run their own programs, the program requirements may vary by the court.
The successful completion of these programs usually results in the dismissal of charges.
Do you need an attorney at your drug hearing?
You have the right to represent yourself at your hearing; however, you must know and follow the law and court rules. If you are a first time narcotic offender, you will feel lost and frustrated and will have little knowledge about the court system. If you choose to defend yourself, you will be subjected to a number of limitations that can restrict you from properly handling your own case. For instance, witness identity is protected, and you will not be able to contact witnesses without having an attorney representing you. Moreover, a criminal defense attorney may convince the judge and the prosecutor to dismiss your case or help to secure a place in California Diversion Programs such as California’s Prop. 36 or California Penal Code 1000 PC deferred entry of judgment.
Don’t wait until your case has gotten out of hand, call (888) 250-2865 to speak with a MacGregor & Collins, LLP drug crime defense lawyer about your case. We provide free consultations and flat rate fees to those in Orange, Riverside, and San Diego County.