Step 1: Entering a Plea and Seeking Release
Your first time in court is called an "arraignment". At the arraignment you will be formally told of the charges against you. In most cases, your lawyer will advise you to plead not guilty. If the charges against you make you eligible to be released from custody, your lawyer will ask the judge to release you without posting bail, or will ask to set bail at a fair amount. If you are out of custody after the arraignment, then you will need to set an appointment to meet with your lawyer. If you are in custody after arraignment, an attorney will go to the jail to speak with you.
Step 2: Meeting with Your Lawyer
If you are out of custody or released from custody, you should call the Solano County Public Defender’s Office to see which attorney has been assigned to represent you. If your next court date is in Fairfield, call the Fairfield office at 707-784-6700. If your next court date is in Vallejo, call the Vallejo Public Defender’s Office at 707-553-5241. Do not wait until the day before your next court date! When you learn who has been assigned to represent you, then ask to schedule an appointment with your attorney. It is important that you give your lawyer all the information needed to prepare your case. If you stay in custody, your lawyer will visit you before your next court date. After this first meeting, your lawyer will continue to meet and talk with you. You can always call or ask to meet with your lawyer.
Step 3: Investigating Your Case
At the Solano County Public Defender’s Office, we have a team of investigators that are here to investigate all aspects of your case. Together with your attorney, an investigation plan will be designed to obtain the best outcome for the case. Some investigation will be completed quickly, and other investigation takes time to complete. It is very important that you assist your attorney in providing as much information that you have, including names, contact information, description of the person, about witnesses so that we can better assist you in the investigation of your case.
Step 4: Preliminary Hearing
If you are charged with a felony, you have a right to what is called a “preliminary hearing.” A preliminary hearing is where a judge decides if there is enough evidence against you to put you on trial. This hearing must be held within 10 business days after your first court appearance, unless you give up this right. This is the first hearing that the prosecution is required to call witnesses to the witness stand to testify against you. This could be police officers or other witnesses to the crime that you are charged with. Your attorney will have a chance to question or cross-examine each of the prosecution witnesses. At the preliminary hearing, the judge may decide to change or dismiss some of the charges against you. Some charges can be reduced to misdemeanors. If you are charged with an offense or offenses that can be reduced to misdemeanors, the judge can reduce the charge(s) to misdemeanors at the end of the preliminary hearing. If the judge finds enough evidence to hold a trial, a further court date will be set for you.
Step 5: Readiness Conference or Pretrial Conference
A “readiness conference” or "pretrial conference" is a court date before your trial to see if your case can be settled or resolved instead of going to trial. Your lawyer will vigorously represent you as he or she negotiates with the prosecutor. Your lawyer will tell you if any offers made by the prosecutor have been made to settle your case. It is your lawyers’ job to tell you the offer, discuss the pros and cons of the plea bargain with you and advise you whether to accept or reject the plea bargain. This is an important time to communicate with your attorney. If you need more time to discuss the plea bargain, tell your attorney. There will also be a readiness conference before the preliminary hearing.
Step 6: Trial
The first step in a trial is picking a jury. A jury is made up of 12 people from the community who will hear your case and decide on your guilt or innocence. Your lawyer will work diligently to make sure you have a fair jury. After the jury is chosen, lawyers from each side will give opening statements outlining their case. After opening statements, the prosecution presents its evidence and witnesses. Then, your lawyer-- the defense-- presents his or her evidence and witnesses. Then the lawyers each give closing arguments and the judge tells the jury the law. Finally, the jurors go into a private room where they talk about the evidence and decide on a “verdict,” or whether or not they believe you are guilty or not guilty of the charge or charges. If all 12 jurors cannot come to an agreement on a verdict, then the judge declares a “mistrial” and the prosecution can choose to do the trial over again. A trial can last anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on your case.
Step 7: Appeal
If you are found guilty of a crime, you may be able to “appeal” your conviction. This means your lawyer will ask that your case be looked at again. If the crime is a misdemeanor, then three judges from Solano County Superior Court will hear the appeal. If the crime is a felony, then the First District Court of Appeal will hear your case.
Do not talk to anyone about your case. Do not talk to anyone about your case except for your lawyer and your lawyer’s staff. If you are in jail, do not talk about your case on the jail telephone, during social visits, or during video chats, because those conversations are recorded, and those conversations can be used against you in court. Also, all mail that is sent or received in jail is opened and read, so do not talk about your case in a letter. If you need to write a letter to your lawyer, write the words “LEGAL MAIL” on the envelope and it will not be read.
Let your lawyer do the talking. Your lawyer will talk with you before you appear in court and they will talk to the judge and the other lawyers for you in court. It is usually not a good idea to speak for yourself in court, unless your lawyer asks you to. Our lawyers know the law and everything they do is with your best interest in mind.
Do not be late for court. You can find the date, time, and place for your next court appearance on your court slip or at Solano County Courts (https://portal.solano.courts.ca.gov/). It is very important that you show up for your court date on time. If you do not show up to a court appearance, and your appearance has not been “waived,” the court will put out a warrant for your arrest. Most hearings begin at 8:30 a.m. and sometimes there is a long line at security to get into the building. It can also be hard to find your courtroom, so it’s best that you arrive at 8:15 a.m. just to be safe. If you are going to be late, please notify the Public Defender’s Office at 707-784-6700 (Fairfield) and 707-553-5241 (Vallejo) so that the office can let your attorney know that you will be late.
Childcare. If you need to bring your children with you to court in Fairfield, you can leave them at the Hall of Justice Children’s Waiting Room which is on the third floor of the court house at 600 Union Avenue, Fairfield, CA. Children that are ages 2 to 14 are welcome in the waiting room as long as they are potty trained. The hours are 8:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Stay out of trouble. The last thing you need is another problem hanging over your head. If you are released from custody, stay clear of anything that could put you back in jail. If you are cited or re-arrested while out of custody fighting your case, notify your attorney as soon as possible.