Monday, November 16, 2015

Appearing in Court at the North Orange County Justice Center in Fullerton: What to Expect

If you've been arrested or cited in North Orange County, your court appearances will probably be held at the North Justice Center in Fullerton.  North OC includes Anaheim, Fullerton, Buena Park, Brea, Yorba Linda, La Palma, La Habra and Placentia.

Today's post is about what to expect when you appear at the Fullerton courthouse.

The North Justice Center is located at 1275 N. Berkeley Ave., near the corner of Harbor Blvd. and Valley View, just north of Downtown.  From the 91 freeway, exit at Harbor and head north for about 2 miles.

First, some good news:  Plenty of free parking. The courthouse in Fullerton features two large parking lots. If the upper lot is full, check down below.

Be prepared to go through a security screening, including a metal detector and x-ray of your bags. They will not allow you to enter the building with any type of weapons, tools, sporting equipment, skateboards or cigarette lighters.

If you received a letter in the mail instructing you to appear in court, check the electronic monitors for your name as soon as you enter the building. The big T.V. screens will direct you to the appropriate courtroom. If your name does not appear on the screen, go straight to the clerk's office in room 350, located on the 3rd floor.


If you're appearing in Fullerton for your first appearance in a misdemeanor case (including DUI), your matter will probably be heard in department N-8 on the 4th floor. Your first appearance is called the "arraignment". At your arraignment, the judge will officially notify you of the charges. You will have an opportunity to resolve your case on the spot by simply pleading "guilty" if you choose to do so.

You or your lawyer must personally appear at the arraignment. Nobody else may appear for you unless he or she is a licensed attorney. Do not send your mom or your spouse to court on your behalf. If you fail to appear, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.

Most misdemeanors in North Orange County are prosecuted by the Orange County District Attorney's Office. Anaheim has it's own prosecutorial agency within their City Attorney's Office that handles all misdemeanor cases arising within the City of Anaheim. Once you find your courtroom, the next step is trying to determine who your prosecutor will be. If you were cited or arrested in Anaheim for a misdemeanor, then you will probably be prosecuted by the Anaheim City Attorney rather than the Orange County District Attorney. This gets complicated. If two people are arrested for the exact same crime across the street from each other -- one in Orange and the other in Anaheim -- the person arrested in Anaheim will be prosecuted in Fullerton by the Anaheim City Attorney. The person arrested in Orange will be prosecuted in Santa Ana by the Orange County District Attorney. Even if the cases are closely related, the prosecutors in each case might not even be aware of the other.

Your arraignment is not the day for your trial. The judge will not hear witnesses or evidence at the time of your arraignment. He will not allow you to explain yourself or to tell your side of the story. If you do not believe that you are guilty, or if you want to consult with an attorney before deciding how to proceed, you may either apply for the services of the Public Defender, or you may ask for a brief continuance to retain your own private attorney. If you tell the judge that you want to hire a lawyer before making any decisions, he will assign a new court date in 2-3 weeks. You will not be punished for requesting an opportunity to talk to a lawyer. In most misdemeanor cases, your private attorney can appear at the next hearing(s) without you.

If you request the services of the Public Defender at your arraignment, you must fill out a financial declaration so that the clerk can determine whether or not you qualify for court-appointed counsel. You may be billed for the Public Defender's services if the court determines that you have the ability to pay those costs.

After pleading "not guilty" at your misdemeanor arraignment, your case will be scheduled for a series of "pre-trial conferences" next door, in department N-9. At these pre-trial conferences, your attorney will have a chance to sit down with the prosecutor to discuss details of your case. The prosecutor and your attorney will attempt to negotiate a fair disposition. Depending on the unique facts and circumstances of your case a "fair disposition" could be a dismissal, a reduction of charges, or a negotiated plea bargain. At the pre-trial conferences, attorneys will exchange "discovery" -- evidence that would potentially be used by either side at trial. Your lawyer might also prepare a "mitigation packet" -- a collection of documents, character letters, proof of attendance at AA meetings, medical records, etc. -- to argue for leniency.

Your attorney and the prosecutor might have several pre-trial conferences while they attempt to work towards a resolution. If no agreement can be reached, or if you do not wish to accept any plea deal, then your case might eventually proceed to trial. If that happens, then you will be sent down the hall to department N-7. Department N-7 controls the "master calendar" for the North Orange County Justice Center. There, a judge will assign your case to a courtroom for trial, based on the court's availability.  If there are no courtrooms available in the Fullerton courthouse, your case can even be transferred to another courthouse in Orange County for trial (Westminster, Santa Ana or Newport Beach).


If you're appearing in Fullerton for a felony case, your arraignment will probably happen on the 3rd floor, in department N-3.  The felony arraignment procedure is similar to misdemeanor cases, except that the judge will not allow a defendant to simply plead "guilty" at his or her first appearance, even if the defendant wants to. Felony cases are too serious and too complicated to wrap up cleanly in a single appearance. Any competent attorney will need to thoroughly review the allegations and the evidence before advising a client to accept any plea deal in a felony case, and that's not possible at the arraignment stage.

After pleading "not guilty" in your felony case, you will have a series of pre-trial conferences, just like in misdemeanor cases. Again, your attorney will sit with the DA, discuss the evidence, and try to negotiate a fair resolution.

If no reasonable resolution can be agreed upon, then your felony case will proceed to the "preliminary hearing" stage. At the prelim, the DA will present evidence to try to convince a judge that there exists "probable cause" to "hold you to answer" for the charge. The DA must prove that there is a good reason to believe that a felony has been committed and that you are the person who committed it. They will usually call an investigating officer who may testify as to what he saw and heard at the time of your arrest. The investigating officer may even testify as to "hearsay" during the prelim, even if some of these statements might not be admissible at trial.

If the judge finds that there exists "probable cause" and he decides to "hold you to answer" after the preliminary hearing, then you and your attorney will begin to prepare for trial. Long, complicated trials are usually transferred to Santa Ana. The Santa Ana courthouse is better equipped to accommodate large jury pools, crowds of spectators and reporters, and lengthy matters that might occupy a courtroom for weeks at a time.

Post-Conviction Proceedings

If you've previously been convicted of a crime, you were probably placed onto probation with lots of terms and conditions imposed. The judge might have ordered to you complete classes / counseling, take drug tests, attend AA meetings, perform community service, or pay fines. You might also have "progress report hearings" scheduled.

A "progress report hearing" is just what it sounds like -- a chance for the judge to check up on the progress of whatever program(s) you were ordered to complete.

Judges in Fullerton are notoriously strict at progress report hearings. They expect you to fulfill your end of whatever bargain you agreed to. If you have failed to comply, then the judge will almost certainly impose consequences. Those consequences may include jail time. Judges in Fullerton will not be moved by sad stories. They don't care that the court-ordered classes have been "inconvenient" for you to attend or that they conflict with your work schedule. They will not sympathize if you cannot coordinate transportation or child care. They expect you to comply. If you demonstrate that you cannot or will not comply with the terms of your probation, then those terms will simply be converted to straight time in the Orange County Jail.

If you expect to have trouble complying with the terms of your probation, or if you know that a violation is imminent due to circumstances beyond your control, you or your attorney must go before a judge before you miss a court-imposed deadline. Explain the problem and bring any supporting paperwork to show the judge. If you can demonstrate that you are making a good-faith effort to comply, and you are proactive about bringing your problem to the judge before your problem becomes a violation, then the court might accommodate you. The judge can grant you an extension or convert a portion of your sentence (e.g., fines to community service, or vice versa).

That's the short version of what to expect when appearing in court at the North Orange County Justice Center in Fullerton. Here's a cheat-sheet for important offices located inside the building:

-Collections Department:  1st floor.  They accept payments for all criminal and traffic matters. The line gets long by mid-morning. I'd recommend getting there early.

-Criminal & Traffic Clerk:  3rd floor. If you show up but your name is not on the electronic screen, check in here. Start here if you need to add yourself onto the court's calendar (to recall a warrant, to request an extension for something, etc.).

-District Attorney's Office:  3rd floor, along the North wing.

-Probation Department:  3rd floor, near the Criminal & Traffic Clerk

-Anaheim City Attorney's Office:  4th floor, along the South Wing

-OneOC (Volunteer Center):  4th floor. Go here to sign up for community service if the judge orders you to do so. OneOC will assign you to an approved non-profit group in your area where you may perform your labor.

-Alcohol Liaison:  4th floor. If you are convicted of a DUI or some other alcohol-related offense, the judge will order to you to report to this office. The A.L. will help you enroll in an approved alcohol school.

If you or a loved one is arrested in Fullerton / North Orange County, or if you have a pending court date in the North Justice Center, call us for a free consultation.  (714) 449 3335. Ask for John.

Thanks for reading.

Fullerton Criminal Defense Attorney