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CRIMINAL COMPLAINTS IN CALIFORNIA

 

There are two ways a person can be charged with a crime in California. One is by grand jury indictment; the other far more common method is by a criminal complaint filed by the prosecutor, who represents the People of the State of California. (The People of the State of California as plaintiff, the offender as defendant.) When an individual is charged by complaint, there is often a long list of charges, some seemingly redundant. My clients are often confused as to how the prosecution can come up with a long list of different crimes for the same act.

For example, say John Doe is accused of punching and kicking his wife. She falls to the ground and on all fours she crawls toward the front door to escape her husband’s abuse. As she attempts to open the front door, Mr. Doe hits her on the head with a nearby large glass vase, which shatters causing several lacerations on Mrs. Doe’s scalp. He then drags her away from the front door. After dragging her back inside, he then opens the front door and tells her to get out.

In this scenario, Mr. Doe would likely see several charges filed against him in addition to the domestic abuse offense. If Mrs. Doe’s injuries were substantial enough and the vase he hit her on the head was heavy, he could even face an attempted murdercharge. But at the very least, the Orange County district attorney would charge Mr. Doe with 1) corporal injury on a spouse, with a sentence enhancement of great bodily injury, 2) assault, again with a sentencing enhancement of great bodily injury, and 3) false imprisonment effected by violence.

Now you might ask, isn’t the assault charge duplicative of the domestic violence charge? The same might be asked of the false imprisonment charge. While the alleged offenses were all part of one act, each offense includes elements that are specific to the offense even though some of the elements may overlap.  For example, the domestic violence charge (corporal injury on a spouse, Penal Code 273.5(a)) is an assault but it differs in that it is an assault against a spouse, but it is also an assault. This scenario is but one example; there are many other examples of crimes that are charged under multiple statutes in multiple counts. That is how the prosecution rolls.

The cynical (but perhaps correct) view is that the prosecution charges every crime that fits in order to “encourage” the defendant to plea. The more crimes charged, the more leverage the D.A. has in plea negotiations.  In Mr. Doe’s case, the D.A. might offer to drop the assault charge against him in exchange for his plea to domestic violence and false imprisonment.

But the defendant does not have to play ball. Every defendant is constitutionally entitled to a jury trial. Sometimes, that can be a foolish gamble, but certainly not always. If the prosecution does not have the evidence to prove each element of each charge, the charge may be dismissed in the preliminary hearingor if it survives that hearing, may be acquitted by the jury.  For example, if the evidence does not support the allegation that Mr. Doe dragged his wife back inside as she attempted to leave, the charge of false imprisonment will not likely survive.

If you or someone you care about has been criminally charged, the complaint can be overwhelming and confusing. Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg can review the complaint filed against you and determine how strong each allegation is in relation to the police evidence and advise you accordingly. It can be frightening to see a long list of charges, but Mr. Weinberg’s job is to get those charges dismissed or reduced and he will utilize every legal strategy to get that done. Mr. Weinberg can be reached at his Irvine office by calling 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.