Tuolumne County Felony Proceedings     print
You have been charged with a felony by the District Attorney. The following information may answer some of your initial questions about the procedures in your case.

First, the charges in the complaint may be different from those on your booking sheet. When you are arrested the officer books you on the offenses he or she believes are appropriate. The report is given to the District Attorney's office where a Deputy District Attorney reviews the file and prepares a complaint which contains the charges the DA believes are appropriate. The complaint is the official charging document and those are the charges to be addressed.

Preliminary Examination: Normally the first hearing after your arraignment and entry of plea is a Preliminary Examination. This is a hearing where the District Attorney must show the court that probable cause exists to send your case to the trial department. Probable cause is a very low burden of proof and the District Attorney normally succeeds in establishing enough probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that you committed it. This does not mean you are guilty, only that there is sufficient evidence to get to the trial level. This is done by way of a "holding order" made by the court. At the preliminary examination the DA is allowed to use hearsay evidence and the actual people involved, except for some of the police officers, are rarely called to testify. Further, we are allowed to present evidence only in very limited circumstances. Many cases settle at this point, and we will be discussing that both prior to and on the date set for the hearing.

Assuming you are held to answer, the next hearing after your preliminary examination is another arraignment. At this hearing we will enter a plea of Not Guilty on your behalf and set dates for Trial and for a Trial Readiness Conference. If you are not in custody we will usually ask you to waive your right to a trial within 60 days unless we have a reason to push the case through. This give us a bit more time to prepare your case and more flexibility in setting the trial. If you are in custody we will not ask you to waive time unless the case is very serious or complex and we need extra time to prepare.

The Trial Readiness Conference (TRC) is a hearing where the attorneys meet with the judge to see if the case is ready, or nearly ready for trial, and to see if it can be settled. Most cases which will settle will do so at this hearing because the judge is involved in the settlement discussions for the first time and provides impartial input to the process. Mr. Webster will come out after the meeting and talk to you about any offer. If the offer is acceptable you will be asked to fill out some paperwork and will enter a guilty plea to the agreed upon charges for the disposition which was agreed upon. If the offer is not acceptable the jury trial will be confirmed and another TRC may be set by the court if there is still time before trial.

If your case is going to trial it is critical that you cooperate with us and help us prepare for it. There are too many things to discuss to address here. One important thing to know is that unless the trial gets bumped by a trial with a higher priority the court rarely grants continuances.

Your Input Is Important: We cannot help you to the full extent possible if you do not talk to us. If you are out of custody it is your responsibility to contact our office and make an appointment prior to the preliminary examination and prior to the TRC, and such other times as we may advise you is necessary. If you are in custody we will come to see you at the jail whenever, and as frequently as, we believe it to be necessary. Please understand that most of the work done in preparing a case is done in the office by the attorney, investigator and staff.

Witnesses: We are required by law to disclose to the District Attorney the names and address of our witnesses no later than 30 days before the trial. It is, therefore, important that you tell us about all your witnesses as soon as possible; even a partial list helps us get started. If you wait until the TRC to tell us about witnesses, we may be unable find or call them. As soon as you learn of a possible witness let us know immediately - the sooner we talk to them the better the chance of being able to call them. Whether you are in custody or not, as early as possible in the case please write out a list of your witnesses. Here is what we need:
• First and last name
• Address - work and home both if you can get that information
• Telephone numbers - all you can find for the witnesses
• Brief Statement by you or them as to why you believe they are important to your case.
This information is necessary and may take some effort on your part, but we can't work with information such as "John, who hangs out in Tuolumne." This information may be mailed to our office (or dropped off) at 36 No. Washington Street, Sonora, CA 95370, or faxed to (209) 532-5084, or given to Mr. Webster in court. Regardless of how you get the information about your witnesses to us, do it as soon as possible. Mr. Webster will make the final decision regarding which witnesses are called. This is based upon both legal and tactical considerations. But remember, we can't call a witness we don't know about, and may not be able to call a witness we learn about at the last minute.

Working With Your Attorney: Our goal is to get the best result for you possible - whether that means negotiating a settlement or going to trial. In all cases we require complete and truthful information. What you discuss with Mr. Webster is confidential and can't be disclosed to anyone outside this office without your permission. Mr. Webster needs to know everything in order to evaluate your case and make a recommendation to you as to whether to settle your case or take it to trial. Make sure we know how to get hold of you in case something comes up or we have a question to ask you.

Settlement: Somewhere around 95% of criminal cases settle. Whether you accept an offer, make a counter offer, or reject an offer and go to trial is your decision. We are here to advise you in order to help you make a truly informed decision. That advice will be based upon the states evidence against you, the evidence in your favor, your criminal record (or lack of record), the attorney's opinion of whether going to trial is a reasonable risk, and any other factors unique to your case. Remember that each case is different. The fact that you know someone with the same charges who got a better offer does not mean anything because every case has different facts and the weighting of the factors mentioned above may be different in your case. Whether or not you wish to accept an offer, and even if it is completely unreasonable, your attorney has a mandated duty to disclose to you any offers made by the DA or the court.

Important!!!! DO NOT TALK TO ANYONE ABOUT YOUR CASE EXCEPT US. You can tell Mr. Webster or your investigator anything and everything about the case, but anything you say to someone else is not protected. If you inadvertently say anything damaging to your case to someone the DA can call that person to testify in court. Law enforcement should not be contacting you because you have an attorney. If this should happen, say nothing and contact your attorney. Be advised that lying is legal and "accepted" police procedure, so no matter what an officer may tell you, even if you get arrested in the future, do not talk to law enforcement until you have talked to a lawyer, and then only if your lawyer says it's all right to do so. You have the right to remain silent for a reason - use it! You can not help yourself by telling the police what happened. No matter what they may tell you, being "cooperative" only makes their job easier - it doesn't help you.