Once the deputy district attorney files the complaint, the defendant must appear in court. The defendant’s appearance is requested either by citation (issued at the scene by the police agency or upon defendant posting bail immediately after arrest) or by an arraignment letter. If the defendant fails to appear for this initial court appearance, the court will generally issue an arrest warrant. If, however, the defendant is in custody when the complaint is filed, he or she will be brought before a judge within 48 hours of his or her arrest, excluding weekends and holidays.
At the defendant’s first appearance in court, called the “arraignment,” the defendant is advised of the charges brought against him or her and of his or her constitutional rights, for example, the right to a jury or court trial, right to an appointed attorney, the presumption of innocence, etc. At the arraignment, the defendant enters a plea of either “guilty” or “not guilty.”
If the defendant is in custody, the court will usually set bail in an amount to protect the public and ensure the defendant’s return to court. The court must also consider the alleged injury to the victim. If the defendant can post bail, then he or she will be released and ordered to return to court on another date. If the defendant cannot post bail, then he or she will remain in custody. In some cases, the defendant is released on his or her own recognizance. The judge can also impose conditions on the defendant’s release, such as “no contact” with the victim.
If the defendant pleads “guilty” at this stage, he or she is generally given a sentence immediately. Usually, the defendant is ordered by the court to complete one or more of the following: a fine, custody time, CalTrans, community service, counseling, awareness classes, treatment programs, restitution to the victim (ordered in all cases where appropriate), donations to the Victim/Witness Emergency Fund, informal or formal probation, and other terms and conditions of probation.
All further court procedures are determined by whether the defendant is charged with a felony or misdemeanor.