Defendants’ Rights in California

If you have been formally charged with domestic battery or aggravated domestic battery in the state of California, or if you are suspected of a domestic violence crime, you should know that you have certain rights, often referred to as “defendants’ rights.”

Defendants Rights

Defendants’ rights include the following, under the U.S. Constitution and/or the California Constitution:

  • Representation by an attorney. Defendants are guaranteed the right to have an attorney represent them against criminal charges, paid for by the government if the defendant is unable to pay the attorney’s costs.
  • Adequate representation. In addition to the right to have an attorney, defendants also have the right to have an attorney who will represent the defendant adequately against the charges. Note that “adequate” representation does not mean “perfect” representation, but it does mean that a defendant has the right to a licensed attorney who understands criminal law, court proceedings and will act on the defendant’s behalf.
  • A speedy trial. Both constitutions guarantee the right to a speedy trial that is not delayed without good reason, and a delay may not prejudice the defendant’s position in any way. There are also specific time requirements that govern how long an individual can be under arrest without being formally charged, and during what time frame a trial must start if a defendant enters a “not guilty” plea to charges.
  • A public trial. Defendants have the right to public proceedings, except in some circumstances involving crimes against children.
  • A jury trial. Defendants have the right to have their criminal case tried before a jury of their peers. This may be waived in criminal matters with the consent of both parties.
  • Compel witnesses to testify. Defendants have the right to call their own witnesses to help in their defense. If you have been charged or convicted with a crime, make a list of people who may have seen or heard what happened, and get this list to your attorney as soon as possible.
  • Be present for witness testimony against the defendant. Your accuser may call witnesses (including themselves) to testify about alleged crime. Defendants have the right to be confronted by the testimony of any witnesses, to look them in the eye in court, and to have the defense question the witnesses’ statements on cross-examination.
  • Right not to testify. Defendants have the right to maintain their silence, and the fact that they choose to remain silent cannot be used against them. Remember that criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. No defendant can be compelled under the law to testify. Instead of testifying on their own behalf, defendants have the right to rely on the evidence presented in their case, and may argue that the prosecution failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Understand proceedings. A defendant who does not speak English well is entitled to an interpreter throughout the proceedings.
  • No “double jeopardy.” Defendants have the constitutional right to not be put through a criminal trial more than once for the same crime.
  • Due process. The constitution says that each of us has the right to be protected from attempts that are either wrong, or are not supported by the facts, to deprive us of our lives or our liberty.
  • Appropriate punishment. If found guilty of having committed a crime, a defendant is entitled to punishment that is not cruel or unusual.

Being accused or charged with a crime is not something any of us want to have happen, but if it happens to you or someone you love, having an experienced attorney behind you every step of the way is an important first step. If you have been accused of, or charged with domestic battery or aggravated domestic battery, contact us for more information about how we can help you protect your rights.