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Both felonies and misdemeanors start with a procedure called an arraignment. California Penal Code 976. After that, they have little in common.

The arraignment ostensibly is to advise the criminal defendant of the charges against him and to give him an opportunity to plead. A defendant pleading "not guilty" will be given certain options at arraignment, including whether to assert his speedy trial right. A case wherein the defendant is not asserting his speedy trial right, will be referred to in the system as a "time waived" case.

In felony cases, the defendant must personally appear at all hearings unless the court waives the requirement. Criminal defendants charged with a misdemeanor, represented by counsel, are not required to personally appear. California Penal Code 977.

After arraignment, the case will usually be set for a hearing called a "pretrial" or equivalent. This proceeding is similar to a civil settlement conference. A misdemeanor will usually proceed from pretrial directly to trial.

A felony requires a "preliminary hearing" at some point following the arraignment unless waived by the defendant. California Penal Code 859b. In rare cases a grand jury indictment will substitute for a preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is an evidentiary hearing to determine if the evidence is sufficient to support further felony prosecution on the felony charges. A victim may testify at the preliminary hearing. On sufficient proof, the criminal defendant is then "held over" to Superior Court. Penal Code Section 872. In Superior Court the defendant is arraigned again and set for trial.

As with civil proceedings, during the course of the proceedings, various motions and other procedures can intervene.

It is important to understand the distinction between criminal proceedings and juvenile proceedings. Juveniles are not convicted of crimes. California Welfare and Institutions Code 203, In re Tony S. (1978) 87 CA3d 429, 51 CR 84. The proceedings in which juvenile charges are handled are civil proceedings, not criminal. In re Castro (1966) 243 CA2d 402, 52 CR 469.

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