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HOME > DA's Office > Tulare County Courts

  Tulare County Court System  
  The Tulare County Trial Court System has courtrooms located in Visalia, Porterville
and Dinuba.
  Office Information & Directions   Judges & Commissioners  
  Civil Cases   Criminal Cases   Types of Crime  How does a Criminal trial work?  
  Grand Jury   Criminal Indictments   Drug Court   Small Claims Court   

  Civil Cases  
  A civil case usually involves a claim for money, or damages or some kind of claim with respect to a contract or to property. The party initiating the cause is called the plaintiff. The plaintiff sets forth a claim in a document called a complaint or petition. The person who is being sued is called the defendant or respondent. The defendant files an answer, admitting or denying the claims made in the complaint and stating any special defenses he or she may have. Sometimes the defendant may make a claim of his or her own against the plaintiff. This is called a cross-complaint. There may be more than one plaintiff or defendant in a civil case.  
  Criminal Cases  
  In a criminal case, a defendant is charged with a public offense by the community at large in the name of the People of the State of California. A criminal case is initiated by the filing of a complaint or an indictment. A complaint is a document filed by the prosecuting attorney charging that a person has committed a specific offense. An indictment is a written accusation presented upon oath by a grand jury that a person has committed a crime. When a defendant enters a plea of not guilty, the case proceeds to trial.  
  Types of Crime  
  1. Felonies - these crimes carry a punishment of death or imprisonment in a state prison.  
  2. Misdemeanors - these crimes carry a punishment of a fine and/or imprisonment
somewhere other than a state prison, generally in the county jail.
  3. Infractions - these are crimes that violate a statute that only allows punishment to be in the form of a fine.  

How does a criminal trial work?


The criminal court process generally takes between three and four months to complete from the time the defendant is arrested to final sentencing.

A criminal case begins when a person is arrested. Our office files formal charges after reviewing the police report, or a grand jury issues an indictment.


A person who has been arrested and is being held in custody has a right to an arraignment within 48 hours of being arrested. The defendant is brought before the court to plead to the criminal charges in the complaint. The defendant is told what crime he or she has been charged with and is asked to plead "guilty" or "not guilty" or, in certain situations, the defendant may plead "no contest" to the charges.

Preliminary Hearing

After the arraignment, if the defendant has plead not guilty to a felony offense, a preliminary hearing is held. At this hearing the prosecutor must produce evidence to show that it is more likely than not that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed the crime. If the judge decides that the district attorney did show enough evidence, the defendant is arraigned a second time where the defendant will be formally charged again, rights will be explained, and a plea will be made.

Trial Setting and Motions

Next, a trial date is set. In some cases, the attorneys file motions to the court. A motion is a request made to the judge by the prosecution or the defense which asks for a certain order, ruling, or direction. The judge selects a date by which all motions are to be filed with the court. After all motions have been made and ruled on by the judge, the trial date is set at the second arraignment.

Jury Selection

The trial begins with selection of a jury. Twelve jurors are selected from the jury pool along with alternate jurors. The number of alternates selected depends on the type and length of the case. The alternate jurors hear the entire case. If one of the selected jurors cannot complete jury service, an alternate takes over.

Being a juror is an important task, and the Office of the District Attorney thanks those who serve in this important constitutional role. Learn more about what to expect when you serve on a jury by downloading the California Court's brochure on jury service at http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/CC_2012_03_FINAL.pdf.

Opening Statements

Next, attorneys give their opening statements. Opening statements are summaries made to the jury which outline what the attorneys expect to prove with the evidence they have.

Evidence and Witnesses

Evidence is then presented first by the prosecutor and then by the attorney representing the defendant. Evidence can consist of pictures, objects, documents, or sworn testimony by witnesses. The evidence presented at trial must either prove or disprove a question in the case. If it does not, the evidence is not relevant to the case and the jury is not allowed to consider it when determining whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

Either attorney can object to questions he or she feels are improper. The judge either sustains the objection, which means the question cannot be asked, or he overrules the objection and lets the attorney ask the question.

Closing Arguments

After both sides have presented their evidence, the attorneys give their closing arguments. Each attorney analyzes and interprets the evidence he or she has presented. The jury is then instructed by the judge about the law that applies to the case. The jury then moves to the jury room to reach a verdict.

Jury Deliberation and Reaching a Verdict

If the jury reaches a guilty verdict in a felony case, the judge will order a probation report and schedule a sentencing hearing. A misdemeanor can be sentenced immediately.


State and local laws determine the defendant's punishment. The maximum sentence for an infraction is a fine; for a misdemeanor it is a fine and/or up to one year in county jail; and for a felony it is time in a state prison or, for some murders, death.



Office of the District Attorney, County of Tulare
 ▫  221 S Mooney Blvd, Rm 224, Visalia, CA 93291-4593    (559) 636-5494
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