Criminal cases range from relatively minor offenses such as traffic infractions to serious ones like robbery and murder. The State, as the protector of all the people, makes the charge against someone accused of committing a crime because a crime is considered an act against society. Only the State, through the office of the District Attorney in each county, can charge individuals with criminal violations. The prosecuting attorney presents the charge against the accused person (defendant) on behalf of the State (plaintiff), and must prove to the judge or jury that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
California statutes generally classify a crime as either a felony or a misdemeanor. A felony is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment in a state prison or by death. A misdemeanor is a lesser offense than a felony and generally is punishable by fine or imprisonment in county jail rather than in a state penitentiary.
If you are the victim of a crime, there are resources available to you. Please contact the District Attorney’s Office at (760) 878-0282 or Victim Witness Assistance at (760) 873-6669.
There are 3 types of criminal cases:
An infraction is a minor violation. Many traffic violations are infractions. The punishment for infractions is usually a fine. See the Traffic division for more information.
A misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail, Informal Probation and/or by fine.
Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail, or by fine, or both. Defendants who plead guilty to a misdemeanor may be sentenced during the arraignment, unless the judge wishes to postpone sentencing in order to study a probation report. During the arraignment, if a defendant pleads not guilty to a misdemeanor, the judge will set the date for a trial. The trial will be held within 30 days if the defendant is in custody or within 45 days if the defendant is not in custody-unless the defendant waives the right to a speedy trial.
Examples of misdemeanors are:
- petty theft
- driving with a suspended license
- drunk driving (also known as “dui” or “driving under the influence”)
A felony is the most serious crime and is punishable by death, or imprisonment in the state prison, Formal Probation or county jail and fines.
If a defendant pleads guilty to a felony at the arraignment, he or she must be represented by an attorney (unless the defendant, in a noncapital case, waives the right to one). After a guilty plea, the judge will set the case for sentencing. If a defendant pleads not guilty to a felony, a preliminary hearing is held. At this hearing the district attorney must show evidence that the defendant committed a felony and should be brought to trial. If the judge decides there is enough evidence, the defendant will be arraigned a second time in superior court, where the defendant again will be formally charged, rights will be explained, and a plea will be made.
Examples of felonies are:
- possession of illegal drugs (called “controlled substances”) for sale
You have to go to court on your scheduled court date in all misdemeanor and felony cases. If you do not go to the scheduled court appearance on time, the judge may issue a bench warrant for your arrest.
It is very important that you check the court or legal papers you have to find out the day and time you must appear in court. You can find this information on one of the following documents:
- Cash bail receipt,
- Notice of hearing,
- Signed Promise to appear, or
- Notice to appear
If you have any questions about your court date, please contact the Criminal Division in person, at either courthouse in Independence or Bishop or call the Court at (760) 872-3038 during the hours of 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
There are two locations where a criminal case may be heard in Inyo County:
168 North Edwards Street
P.O. Box 518
Independence, CA 93526
Open Monday through Friday: 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Closed from noon to 1:00 p.m. each day
301 West Line Street
Bishop, CA 93514
Open Monday - Friday: 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Closed from noon to 1:00 p.m. each day
When you get to the courthouse, check the calendar on the wall for your name and the department where your case will be heard. If you do not see your name on one of the criminal calendar lists, go to the clerk’s office to ask about your case.
If you posted a bail bond for a specific date to appear or have appeared in Court and are ordered to return you cannot change the date. If you were appointed or have hired an attorney you should contact them for assistance. If the date set is for an Arraignment and a complaint has been filed with the court you may contact the Criminal Division and the clerk may be able to advance your Arraignment date but cannot postpone your hearing date.
If you want to change the date you are scheduled to go to Court, you must contact your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, it is very important to appear on the scheduled court date or a warrant may be issued for your arrest.
If you did not go to court on the day and time your hearing was scheduled, and you did not get the hearing changed to another day, you need to contact your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, you should contact the Criminal Division as soon as possible.
If you do not hire your own lawyer, you can ask the court to appoint one. To do this, you must go to your first court appearance and fill out a public defender application. If you qualify, the court will then appoint the Public Defender, Conflict Counsel, Alternate Conflict Counsel or a private attorney to represent you. When your case ends, the judge will consider your income, expenses, and other factors to decide how much (if any) of the court-appointed lawyer’s legal fees you must pay.
In addition to bringing a valid identification document (driver's license, passport, or other picture identification), you should bring other documents such as:
- Notice of Hearing
- Bond receipts, cash bail receipts, etc.
- Jail release paperwork
To clear a warrant you must contact your attorney. If you do not have an attorney you can contact the Criminal Division to set up a warrant surrender or go to any law enforcement office to sign a cite and release. You may contact the Criminal Division at (760) 872-3038 during the hours of 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
You can find out whether someone who has been arrested is in custody by calling the Inyo County Correctional Facility at (760) 878-0370.
If a defendant is in custody, he or she has the right to an arraignment. At this hearing the judge will officially tell the defendant about their constitutional rights and explain the charges against them. Also, bail (property temporarily given to ensure that a person released from custody will return at an appointed time) may be raised or lowered. The defendant will be asked to plead to the charges against them: guilty, not guilty, or, in some cases, nolo contendere.
The Criminal Division maintains filings and records of dispositions (judicial decisions.) To get information about or copies of documents from a criminal case, you can make a request in person or in writing via the mail. The Court will no longer accept checks marked "not to exceed xx dollars." If you make your request in writing, be sure to include:
- A letter including the defendants name, date of birth and case number (if known), as well as a list of the documents you want copied.
- Contact information of the party making the request for documents, including name, address and telephone number. The clerk will determine the number of copies being requested and contact you with the total cost.
- Upon receiving a check for the total cost and a self-addressed stamped envelope, the clerk will send the documents.
State and local laws define crimes and specify punishment. The maximum sentence for an infraction is a fine; for a misdemeanor it is up to one year in a county jail or a fine or both; and for a felony it is time in a state prison or, for some murders, death. Some counties offer "diversion" programs that allow a judge to order a defendant to get medical treatment or counseling or to do community service work. The diversion program may take the place of a fine or jail sentence.