The process leading from your arrest to trial will depend on what type of case you have. Here is a brief outline of the steps along the way:

Step 1: Entering a Plea and Seeking Release

At your first court appearance, the arraignment, you will be told of the charges being brought against you. In most cases, your lawyer will advise you to plead not guilty. If you are eligible for release, your lawyer will ask the judge to release you without you posting bail, or to set bail at a reasonable amount.

Step 2: Meeting With Your Lawyer

If released from custody, you should immediately contact your lawyer to schedule a meeting to discuss your case.  If you remain in custody, your lawyer will come to the jail to visit you. It is important that you give your lawyer all of the information needed to prepare your case. After this first meeting, your lawyer will continue to meet and communicate with you. You can always call or ask to meet with your lawyer.

Step 3: Investigating Your Case

Your lawyer will obtain and review all of the reports, documents and other evidence from the police and prosecutors. Your lawyer will work with an experienced investigator who will locate and interview witnesses and obtain other evidence. Your lawyer can access expert witnesses and other resources that might be needed to prepare for your defense.

Step 4: Preliminary Hearing

In felony cases, you have the right to a preliminary hearing where a judge determines if there is enough evidence to hold you for trial. Unless you give up this right, this hearing must be held within 10 court (business) days after your first court appearance. After the hearing, the judge may decide to dismiss some or all of the charges. If the judge finds enough evidence to hold you for trial, a future court date will be set to enter a plea to the charges and to set a trial date.

Step 5: Settlement Conference

A settlement conference is a court date before trial to determine if the case can be settled or resolved. This conference may involve intense negotiations. Your lawyer will inform you of any offers made to settle your case.

Step 6: Trial

The first step in a trial is picking the jury. After the jury is chosen, attorneys give opening statements that outline their respective cases. First, the prosecution presents its witnesses and evidence. Then, the defense presents its witnesses and evidence. The attorneys then give closing arguments and the judge tells the jury the law. Finally, the jurors go to a private room where they deliberate and decide on a verdict. If the jurors cannot agree on a verdict, then there is a mistrial and the district attorney could file the charges again. A trial may last a few days or months, depending on the type of case.

Step 7: Appeal and Clearing Your Record

If you are convicted of a crime, you might be able to appeal your conviction. The Santa Cruz County Public Defender’s Office also collaborates with the Watsonville Law Center to provide expungement clinics and help clear your record for employment purposes. To learn more about these services, call the Watsonville Law Center at (831) 722­2845.