What are My Rights if I am Accused of a Crime in California?

Young man in jailPeople who have been formally accused (charged or “indicted”) with a crime have various rights. We cover some of them here.

What can the police or investigators do to me?

Most of the rules on police work is covered under our Guide to Police Conduct.

Can they keep me in jail before my trial?

If someone has been determined to be a threat to public safety, a judge can keep the person in jail until the resolution of the case.

California recently became the first to replace the money bail system with one that gives judges the discretion to determine whether those arrested are a threat to public safety or not. The law is in effect as of Oct 2019.

Can they keep me in jail if I haven’t been formally charged with a crime?

See our Rights of People Accused of Crimes in the U.S.

What can I do if someone unjustifiably calls the police on me but I didn’t do anything wrong?

If a private citizen calls the police on you, knowing that you did not commit any crimes, you may be able to successfully sue that person for “malicious prosecution.” This is also sometimes called “abuse of process” or “abuse of civil process” or “wrongful use of civil proceedings.”1See for example Siebel v. Mittlesteadt, 41 Cal. 4th 735, 740 (2007), and Daniels v Robbins

What is a citizen’s arrest and is it legal in California?

In California, any person (not just citizens) may make a citizen’s arrest in any of the following situations:2California Penal Code Sec 837

  1. A “public offense” committed or attempted in one’s presence.
  2. When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not in one’s presence.
  3. When a felony has been in fact committed, and one has reasonable cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it.

Public offense includes essentially any crime, including a felony, misdemeanor, or infraction.3“People v. Landis”. Appellate Division, Superior Court, Orange County. Public offenses” include infractions. (Pen.Code § 16; People v. Tennessee (1970) 4 Cal.App.3d 788, 791, 84 Cal.Rptr. 697.

See more at our Guide to Victim’s Rights

Does California have the death penalty?

Although it remains a possible sentence for those convicted of murder, as of March 13, 2019, California does not actively use the death penalty. Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to put executions on hold (a “moratorium”) indefinitely, just as the governors of Colorado, Oregon, and Pennsylvania have done in the past.

Can children be prosecuted for crimes?

As of January 2020, children under 12 years of age cannot be prosecuted for crimes except for murder or sexual assault. Instead, they will be sent to mental health or rehabilitation programs.4SB 439 (2018)

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