How Do Criminal Defense Attorneys Resolve Cases?

I am oftentimes asked by my clients how I resolve various cases. I would like to explain that process with regard to cases here in San Diego California. In order to do this you first need to understand a little bit about the types of cases that you could have and the types of defenses possible. In general, there are three types of cases that a criminal defense attorney handles: Infractions, Misdemeanors and Felony cases. As for the type of defenses, there are two kinds: Legal defenses and Factual defenses. Naturally, I will break down the difference between a legal defense and a factual defense and then go on to explain the different ways that you can resolve cases given the three different types of cases that you could have. Please remember that this list is not exhaustive and that there may be many other ways to fight any case that you are facing. It is important to get a good attorney to properly analyze what the options are and the best defenses for your case.

Legal Defense

A legal defense is a defense based in either statutory or case law that is technical in nature. These defenses are decided by judges. In essence, you are attacking the procedure of the case or a technical legal rule. An example of this would be if your 4th amendment right to unlawful search and seizure was violated. Let’s say that the police department raided your house without a warrant and then arrested you and collected a bunch of evidence against you. Let’s also say that there was no exception to the warrant requirement. The police confiscating the evidence in your case was illegal. Under penal code section 1538.5 any illegally obtained evidence can and should not be used against you. If you are able to suppress the evidence in the case because the police department violated your rights when they took it, then you can potentially have your case dismissed.

Factual Defense

A factual defense is a defense that says that you could not have done the crime that they are accusing you of because they cannot meet all of the elements of the crime or because it would have been impossible for you to have committed the crime. Generally, these are decided by the trier of fact, which could be a judge but is usually a jury. A good example of a factual defense is the Alibi defense. In this scenario, you are asserting that you could not have done the crime that they are alleging because it is literally impossible that you did it based on the facts. John Doe was accused of a murder that happened in National City California at 8:00pm on Thursday. There are 30 people who saw John Doe at a club in Vista California at 8:00pm. It would be impossible for John to have been in both places at the same time.


Generally speaking, Infractions are criminal cases where your liberty is not in jeopardy. These are things like speeding tickets or getting a ticket for having an open alcohol container down at the beach. The penalty for these types of crimes is to pay a fine, do community service or get points on your license… or some combination of the three.

In the state of California, there is no District Attorney or City Attorney who prosecutes these cases. In general, the police officer who cited you is the one who is in charge of the prosecution of your case. When you get one of these cases the first step is to arraign the case. The arraignment is the process of answering the complaint (in this case it is the actual ticket). At the arraignment, you enter a plea of not guilty and then you set the case for trial. Given how backed up the court system is, often times the trial date will be set months and months away from the date of the arraignment. If the police officer does not show up to the court hearing, then you can get the case dismissed for lack of prosecution. If the actual ticket did not have the correct code section on it, then you can get the case dismissed. If the officer does not have an independent recollection of you or the events that happened months before, you can get the ticket dismissed. If you have a factual defense to what happened, you can take the case to trial and if you win, you get a not guilty verdict. In the event that you do not have any legal or factual defenses, It is also possible to negotiate with the judge and the officer to try to get a break on the type of offense you are guilty of or a reduction in the penalties that are associated with what is charged against you.

Misdemeanor and Felony Cases

A misdemeanor case is generally speaking a lesser type of criminal case in which the penalty carries a year or less in jail. Generally speaking, a felony case is a case in which the penalty is more than a year in prison. Both types of cases can also carry heavy fines and other penalties such as work service, taking classes and other various penalties. In a misdemeanor case, there are generally three ways in which a case can be resolved. It can be resolved by getting a dismissal, taking the case to trial or by entering a plea of guilty.

After the arraignment in your case, the discovery process begins. Both the district attorney’s office, as well as you criminal defense attorney, will exchange information with one another in the case. (don’t worry, Nothing confidential will be disclosed). At this point in the case, your attorney will know what if any legal or factual defenses that you have in your case. A good attorney will also know what mitigating factors exist that can help your situation.

The next hearing after the arraignment is a pre-trial readiness conference. The purpose of this conference is to negotiate and to discuss what is going to be done with the case. Your Defense attorney will begin by negotiating with the prosecution to obtain a deal. This is a negotiation in the truest sense of the word. You discuss the good facts, the bad facts, the possible defenses and everything in between. If the prosecution refuses to be reasonable then your attorney also has the option to bypass the prosecutor and ask the judge directly what his or her indicated sentence would be. Often times, if your attorney is a master at negotiations like those at Seneca Law Group, it may be possible to seriously limit the damage being done to you as a result of the case and even get your crime reduced to a lesser included offense (like reckless driving instead of a DUI). Depending on the negotiations, the facts in your case and the circumstances surrounding it the next steps would be to either pursue your legal defenses through drafting and filing motions with the court and attacking legal weaknesses in the case or you could attack the factual defenses by taking your case through a trial or you could do both.

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