As a criminal defense lawyer, I am frequently asked by friends or acquaintances what to expect when arrested or charged with a crime in California. My answer is always twofold: it depends on the crime, and it depends on where you are arrested and charged. Although the California state legislature writes and enacts criminal laws, each jurisdiction within the state enforces those laws differently. While the California Penal Code defines the elements of crimes and the range of possible sentences, local norms and practices also have a significant impact on the outcome of a case. Ventura has a courthouse that serves the entire county.
Across the board, Ventura sees a lot fewer plea bargains than Santa Barbara. The high number of speedy trial cases (i.e. cases that must be dismissed if not tried before a deadline) forces prosecutors to prioritize their trial cases, and when things are highly impacted, dismiss less serious misdemeanor cases or cases with shaky proof. As a deputy public defender, my supervisors encouraged me to assert my clients speedy trial rights and push misdemeanor cases to trial and felony cases to preliminary hearing as soon as possible, and on the other side, the supervising district attorneys train their deputies to quickly get ready on any case that gets filed. Trials move very fast in Ventura with judges motivated to pick juries, hear closing arguments, and get verdicts, then move onto the next one without wasting any time.
In Ventura, as a matter of policy, virtually no reckless driving offers are made, even if the defendant has a blood alcohol concentration at .08.In addition, DUI probations in Ventura are supervised probations.
Ventura almost always requires probation as a component of every sentence, even for the most minor of offenses. There is a belief among defense attorneys that politically conservative jurors tend to make good prosecution jurors whereas politically liberal jurors tend to make better defense jurors. While it is true that these trends probably hold up over large sample sizes, jury trials in Ventura, which is relatively conservative, are still very winnable for a skilled defense attorney who understands the community and knows how to pick a jury. The population in Ventura, which draws jurors from all over the county to a single courthouse, is more openly pro law enforcement than Santa Barbara, but they are also very willing to be transparent about it and let their biases be known during jury selection when there’s still an opportunity to have the judge release them for cause, rather than after a verdict is rendered, when it’s too late for the defense attorney to do anything but regret that they made it onto the jury at all.
Ventura generally sees a higher volume of drug cases involving methamphetamine, and serious cases like gang cases, felony assaults, robberies, and homicides, and as a result sees stiffer sentences handed down by judges. However, it’s impossible to say whether those norms in sentencing are a product of the criminal justice culture in Ventura or if the jurisdiction is simply responding to a more serious crime problem.
Having tried cases in front of juries in Ventura, the facts of the case and my experience trying that type of case determined whether I would be successful in winning that case. Ultimately, sometimes there are cases that even the best defense attorney cannot win because the facts are just bad, but in all other cases, having an attorney that knows how to do trials in front of a Ventura jury can help. If you want to know what to expect when you’ve been charged with a crime, your best bet is to contact me, and we can discuss the details.