03 Oct 23

The Criminal Justice Process in Sacramento, Step-by-Step

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Last Updated on: 24th October 2023, 05:52 pm

The Criminal Justice Process in Sacramento, Step-by-Step

The criminal justice process in Sacramento can seem complicated. There are many steps and it involves different agencies like the police, courts, jails, probation etc. This article will walk you through the typical process step-by-step, from arrest to sentencing.


The first step is usually an arrest by the police. This happens when the police have probable cause to believe someone committed a crime. Probable cause is more than just a hunch, but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Some common examples of probable cause include:

  • A police officer witnesses someone committing a crime
  • A victim or witness identifies the suspect
  • The suspect is found with evidence of the crime, like stolen property or illegal drugs

Police can arrest someone by simply taking them into custody. But for serious felonies, they often get an arrest warrant from a judge first. This ensures there is probable cause for the arrest.


After arrest, the suspect is taken to jail and “booked.” This means their information is recorded, they are photographed and fingerprinted, and their property is catalogued. They are allowed to make a phone call and are screened for medical or mental health issues.


Within 48 hours after booking, the suspect appears before a judge for arraignment. This usually happens at the Sacramento County Jail courtroom. The judge reads the charges against the suspect and asks them to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If they can’t afford an attorney, the judge will appoint the public defender’s office to represent them. The judge also considers whether to set bail.

Pretrial Release or Detention

After arraignment, a judge decides whether the suspect should be released pending trial, or detained in jail. If the crime is nonviolent and bail is posted, the suspect can be released on their own recognizance or under supervision. Violent suspects or flight risks are detained. Sacramento uses a pretrial risk assessment tool to help make fair release decisions.

Preliminary Hearing

Within 10 days if the suspect is in custody, or 30 days if they were released, there is a preliminary hearing. The prosecutor presents evidence to show there is probable cause that the suspect committed the crime. If the judge agrees, the case moves ahead to the trial phase. Otherwise, the charges are dropped.


Plea Bargaining

Many cases end at this point through plea bargaining. This involves negotiations between the prosecutor and defense attorney. The defendant agrees to plead guilty in return for a more lenient sentence. If no plea bargain is reached, the case proceeds to trial.


During the trial, the prosecutor presents evidence and witnesses to the jury to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney can raise doubts about the evidence and present witnesses of their own. Sacramento trials usually happen at the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse. If found guilty, the judge sets a sentencing date. If acquitted, the defendant is released.


California has a “determinate sentencing” system. This means judges choose a set term within ranges set by law. They consider factors like the severity of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history. Sentences can involve jail or prison time, fines, probation, community service, rehab programs, etc. Victims can submit impact statements to inform the judge’s decision.

Probation and Parole

Instead of incarceration, judges can order probation for lower-level crimes. This involves supervision in the community and requirements like drug tests, classes, community service etc. Parole is supervision after release from prison. Both probation and parole involve meetings with officers and following certain rules. Violations can result in sanctions or reimprisonment.

Appeals and Post-Conviction Relief

After sentencing, the defense attorney can file an appeal claiming errors were made in the trial or sentencing. The California Court of Appeal reviews the transcripts and can uphold, reverse, or modify the judgment. Defendants can also file petitions for writs of habeas corpus or motions to vacate the judgment. These are requests for post-conviction relief claiming their constitutional rights were violated.


In some cases, defendants can get their criminal records expunged through a court petition. Their conviction is essentially erased and they don’t have to disclose it. Expungement is available for certain nonviolent crimes if probation was completed. The public law library has guides on clearing criminal records in Sacramento.

That covers the basic progress of criminal cases step-by-step in Sacramento, from arrest through sentencing and beyond. The process involves many complex laws and procedures, so having an experienced local attorney is important. There are also alternatives to the traditional justice system, like diversion programs and rehabilitation models that can lead to better outcomes for victims, defendants, and the community.


  1. Why is Sacramento’s DA trying to stop criminal cases from going before one judge?. Sacramento Bee. Retrieved October 24, 2023.
  2. Why do Democrats in blue California struggle to reform prisons, sentencing and police? Sacramento Bee. Retrieved October 24, 2023.
  3. The politics of violence: Will Sacramento shootings influence attorney general’s race? CalMatters. Retrieved October 24, 2023.
  4. Sacramento County seeks feedback on jail settlement compliance, criminal justice reforms. CapRadio. Retrieved October 24, 2023.
  5. Criminal Law Basics and Research. Sacramento County Public Law Library. Retrieved October 24, 2023.
  6. Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office Uses Pretrial Program to Connect People with Mental Health Needs to Services and Support. CSG Justice Center. Retrieved October 24, 2023.