The Law Offices of Stanley D. Bowman
700 N. Pacific Coast Highway Suite 202-A, Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Telephone (310) 937-4529  Fax (310) 937-4440
Back to Home Practice Specialty: Criminal Prosecution

In any misdemeanor or felony criminal case (and any infraction where you have been arrested and NOT released on your written notice to appear, on your own recognizance, or after a deposit of bail), you should have a lawyer. You have the right to represent yourself in criminal court in California. BUT because the consequences of a criminal conviction can be so serious and you can end up in jail or prison, it is best if you have a lawyer represent you.

If you cannot afford your own lawyer, the court will appoint a lawyer for you, often a public defender. Make sure you tell the judge at your arraignment that you cannot afford a lawyer. You may have to fill out a financial affidavit, which is a form where you explain your financial situation under oath and show the court you cannot afford a lawyer.


Basics of
Criminal Law
Difference Between
Criminal & Civil Cases
Types of
Criminal Cases
If a Minor Child
Is Arrested



In any criminal case other than most infractions, where the potential for jail or prison time exists, a defendant has the right to be represented by an attorney, even if the defendant cannot afford one. In criminal infraction cases, a defendant also has the right to a lawyer if he or she is arrested and NOT released on his or her written notice to appear, on his or her own recognizance, or after a deposit of bail. The reason is that a criminal proceeding is complicated, and the consequences, besides incarceration (jail or prison time), can be severe. For example, a conviction can result in deportation for noncitizens or prevent a legal resident alien from becoming a citizen.

Certain convictions can prevent persons from holding many types of jobs. Experienced criminal defense attorneys, whether they are for private hire, serve as public defenders, or are appointed by the court, know about the criminal justice system — how it works, which options are available to a defendant, and what the likely outcomes of different options are. Whenever possible, get the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney when you are charged with a crime.

Criminal court is where you go when the state believes you have committed a crime and it files charges against you. Generally, the District Attorney’s Office represents the state. Each county has its own District Attorney’s Office. In some cities certain offenses are prosecuted by the city attorney instead of the district attorney.

Only the government — not another person or private agency — can charge you with a criminal violation.

In criminal court, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt

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Difference Between Criminal & Civil Cases

A criminal case happens when the government files a case in court to punish someone (the defendant) for committing a crime. If the defendant is found guilty of a crime, he or she may face jail or prison.

A civil case happens when one person, business, or agency sues another one because of a dispute between them, usually involving money. If someone loses a civil case, they may be ordered to pay the other side money or to give up property, but they will not go to jail just for losing the case.

There are other important differences, like:

In a criminal case, the government must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In a civil case, the plaintiff must prove his or her case by a “preponderance of the evidence” (more than 50 percent). This means that a party to a civil case can win if he or she is able to convince the judge or jury that his or her side of the case is slightly more convincing than the other side’s.

In criminal cases where the charge is a misdemeanor or felony, if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one without cost to the defendant.

In civil cases, if a party cannot afford a lawyer, they have to represent themselves. There is no right to a court-appointed lawyer in an infraction case.

In criminal cases, defendants almost always have the right to a trial by jury, except in infraction cases.

In civil matters, there are many types of cases where there is no right to a a trial by jury.

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Types of Criminal Cases
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, and if the defendant pays the fine, there is no jail time. 

A misdemeanor is a crime with a maximum punishment of:
  • Either 6 months or 1 year in a county jail, and/or
  • A $1,000 fine (for most misdemeanors).
    Examples of misdemeanors are:
  • Petty theft
  • Vandalism
  • Driving with a suspended license
  • Drunk driving (also known as “DUI” or “driving under the influence”
    A felony is the most serious kind of crime. If found guilty, the defendant can be sent to jail
    or prison for a year or more, or even receive the death penalty for very serious crimes. 
    Defendants convicted of felonies are usually sent to state prison for sentences of 16 months
     or more. 
Examples of felonies are:
  • Robbery
  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Possession of illegal drugs (called “controlled substances”) for sale

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If a Minor Child Is Arrested

If your child is involved in a juvenile delinquency case that means he or she is accused of breaking the law.
The court will consider how old your child is, how serious the crime is, and the child’s criminal record if any. The court can order that:

Your child live with you under court supervision.
Your child be put on probation. He or she may have to live with a relative, in a foster home or group home, or in an institution.
Your child be put on probation and sent to a probation camp or ranch.
Your child can be sent to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice (also called “DJJ”). If your child is tried in adult court, he or she will be sent to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Adult Operations (also called “CDCR”).
If your child is sent to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), he or she will go to a “reception center” for the first 30 to 90 days. The center will find out what education and treatment your child needs. Then your child will go a correctional facility or youth camp.

Find the DJJ’s reception centers.

When a Minor Is Arrested
If your child is arrested, the police can:

Make a record of the arrest and let your child go home.
Send your child to an agency that will shelter, care for, or counsel your child.
Make your child come back to the police station. This is called being “cited back.”
Give you and your child a Notice to Appear. Read the notice and do what it says.
Put your child in juvenile hall (this is called “detention”). Your child can make at least 2 phone calls within 1 hour of being arrested. One call must be to a parent, guardian, relative, or boss. The other call must be to a lawyer.
If the police want to talk to your child about what happened, the police must tell your child about his or her legal rights (called “Miranda rights”), which are:

Your child has the right to remain silent.
Anything your child says will be used against him or her in court.
Your child has the right to a lawyer. If you or your child cannot pay for one, the court will appoint one.
Your child has the right to a lawyer who is effective and prepared. If you cannot pay for a lawyer, the court will get a lawyer for your child. If your child does not have a lawyer, talk to the public defender or another lawyer for advice.

Find the public defender in your county.
Find a lawyer.
You have rights, too. The police must also tell you as soon as your child is locked up. They have to tell you where your child is and what rights he or she has. But you probably will not need your own lawyer.

Getting a Notice to Appear
Read the Notice to Appear carefully. It will probably tell you to go to the probation department to meet with a probation officer.

Four things can happen at the meeting. The probation officer may:

Lecture your child and let him or her go home.
Let your child do a voluntary program instead of going to court. The program could be special classes, counseling, community service, or other activities. If your child finishes the program, he or she will not have to go to court. You may have to sign a contract that says what the child has to do. The contract can last 6 months.
Send your child home and send the case to the district attorney. The district attorney will decide to file a petition (papers that mean that your child will have to go to court) or not.
Keep your child locked up and send the case to the district attorney. The district attorney will then file a petition, usually within 2 days after the arrest. Your child will have a detention hearing on the next day the court is open. The court is closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
If a petition is filed in court, your child’s case will be filed in the juvenile delinquency court.

Trying minors in adult court
Keep in mind that, in some cases, minors can be tried as adults. The three-strikes law says that some serious or violent crimes committed by minors can count as strikes in the future. This can happen even if the records are sealed.

A child who is 14 years old can be tried in adult court for some serious crimes.

Here are some examples:

Murder and attempted murder,
Setting fire to a building with people in it,
Robbery with a weapon,
Kidnapping or carjacking,
Crimes with guns,
Drug crimes, and
Escaping from a juvenile detention facility.
There are big differences between juvenile court and adult court. If the state wants to try your child as an adult, talk to a lawyer about what can happen.

If your child is tried in adult court, he or she child can be sent to adult prison (CDCR). If your child is tried in adult court, talk to a lawyer.

Even if your child is sentenced to adult prison, he or she will stay at the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) until he or she is at least 16.

If your child is at least 16, the judge can send him or her directly to adult prison. Or if your child’s sentence ends before he or she turns 21, the judge can let him or her stay at the DJJ the whole time. If the sentence is longer, your child will go to the CDCR on his or her 18th birthday.

Parental responsibilities when your child is arrested
As a parent (or guardian) you have legal responsibilities. You may also have financial responsibilities for any damage caused by your child. You may have to pay the victim if the court orders “restitution.” Restitution is money to compensate for losses or damage caused by your child. For example, you may have to pay for what your child stole, or for the victim’s medical bills or lost wages. You may also have to pay for your child’s lawyer, juvenile hall services (like food and laundry), and fees to keep your child at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. This can be expensive, so talk to the court about your financial ability to pay for these fees and costs.

You can also ask the probation officer where to get help. You can also get help from your local school district, hospitals, or the mental health department. And it is always a good idea to talk to a lawyer for help.

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The above was excerpted from