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Understanding Criminal Procedure – FAQs

At Jackson Law, we believe in empowering our clients with clear and concise information. Below, you will find answers to some frequently asked questions regarding criminal procedure. Remember, if you require personalized legal advice or assistance, do not hesitate to contact us at 650-587-8556.

What’s the Difference Between a Felony and a Misdemeanor?

Criminal offenses are generally categorized into felonies and misdemeanors based on the severity of their penalties. A crime is classified as a felony if the incarceration period is longer than one year, whereas misdemeanor offenses may result in imprisonment for up to one year. There are also “wobbler” offenses that can be prosecuted either as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on several factors, including the discretion of the prosecutor. Lesser violations, usually penalized by fines, are termed infractions, such as traffic tickets.

What Is the “Presumption of Innocence”?

A cornerstone of our legal system is the presumption of innocence, which ensures that any individual charged with a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty. This principle places the burden of proof on the prosecution to establish the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, without any obligation on the defendant to defend themselves. Should the prosecution fail to meet this burden, the defendant is entitled to acquittal.

How Can I Tell If I’m Guilty of a Crime Defined by a Criminal Statute?

Identifying guilt under a criminal statute involves understanding the specific “elements” of the offense, which include the required actions and the defendant’s intent at the time. Prosecutors must prove that the defendant performed the incriminating acts with the requisite intent as defined by the statute. Take commercial burglary as an example: the prosecutor must substantiate that the defendant entered someone else’s property intending to commit theft or another felony.

What Standard of Proof Is Required in Criminal Trials?

The standard of proof in criminal trials is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is notably more rigorous than the “preponderance of the evidence” criterion used in civil cases. It mandates that any uncertainty in interpreting evidence should be resolved in the defendant’s favor, making the prosecutor’s job challenging when it comes to establishing a defendant’s guilt.

If I’m Accused of a Crime, Will I Definitely Have a Jury Trial?

The right to a jury trial is a constitutional guarantee for those accused of crimes, except in cases of petty offenses. The size and unanimity required for a jury can vary by state. For instance, some states use 12-person juries for all trials, while others may use six-person juries for noncapital cases. It is important to understand that not all jurisdictions require a unanimous decision for conviction or acquittal.

Wouldn’t Testifying Help Prove My Innocence If I Were Accused?

While it might seem intuitive to testify in one’s defense, there are strategic reasons why a defendant might choose not to. The right not to testify is protected under the 5th Amendment, and jurors are instructed not to interpret the defendant’s silence as an admission of guilt. Reasons for staying silent can include avoiding prior convictions from being presented, preventing damaging testimonies due to poor public speaking skills, or simply because their truthful account could seem implausible to a jury.

What Does ‘Incompetent to Stand Trial’ Mean for a Defendant?

A defendant declared “incompetent to stand trial” is one who, due to mental illness, is unable to comprehend the court proceedings or assist with their defense. When competency concerns arise, the court will conduct a hearing following an examination. If found incompetent, the defendant may be committed to a mental institution until their understanding and ability to participate in their defense are restored. Only then will the trial proceed.

For more in-depth answers or to discuss your unique situation, contact Jackson Law at 650-587-8556.

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