The vast majority of Orange County citizens have minimal contact with the criminal justice system. They may know where the courthouse is located, but they probably don't know anyone who is employed there. If they go to court at all, they go to traffic court. Their knowledge of the criminal courts comes largely from television, film, and hearsay. For them, traffic court is the criminal justice system at work.
In Orange County, all felony complaints must be investigated by a police officer, but a citizen is permitted to obtain a warrant for misdemeanor offenses such as assault, trespassing, or destruction of property. To do so, a person must first appear before a magistrate and provide a sworn statement. Then, before a process can be issued, the magistrate must use discretion to decide if there is "probable cause" or a reasonable belief, based on the presented facts that would induce a prudent person to feel that the person accused committed the offense.
Such misdemeanor complaints filed by citizens are assigned to People's Court, an innovative approach to working with citizen-generated misdemeanor complaints, where a referral for mediation is standard procedure. If the opposing parties can mediate an out-of-court agreement, the District Attorney's office generally dismisses criminal charges. If agreement cannot be reached, the case is calendared for trial in District Court.