Part three in our series on criminal procedure in San Bernardino County details pre-trial appearances and information about setting and posting bail.
Your first hearing before a judge is called an arraignment, but pre-trial hearings are any hearings that occur before a criminal jury trial. Pre-trial appearance procedure differs largely from state to state and will also change depending on the charges – felony or misdemeanor. If a defendant has pleaded “not guilty” to their charge(s) and a trial date has been set, both sides will enter the discovery phase.
The discovery phase involves compiling evidence, securing witnesses, and exchanging information that either side is expected to present at the criminal trial. Discovery prevents either side from being blindsided by unexpected evidence or testimony during the trial.
There are many methods of discovery that either side could engage in before trial. One of the most common is engaging in depositions. A deposition is a sworn statement, obtained outside of court, by someone involved with the case in some way. This might be a witness, a family member, a friend, or associate. Another method of discovery is obtaining a subpoena to secure things like documents or records.
The discovery phase happens before trial and after the defendant enters a “not guilty” plea at his or her arraignment, but where is the defendant in the interim? That all depends on bail.
Judges set bail differently for every defendant. It usually depends on the nature of the offense and whether the defendant poses a risk to themselves or others. If the defendant posts bail, they are free to live as usual until their court hearing. If they cannot post bail or bail is not offered, they will have to wait in jail until their hearing date. Defendants who post bail and do not show up for their hearing are considered in contempt of court and an arrest warrant will be issued against them.