N. J. Garcia, 50, the leader of Mexico-based church La Luz del Mundo, has been arrested and charged with several heinous sex crimes, including forcible rape of a minor, committing lewd acts on a child, extortion, and others. According to the charges against him, it’s alleged that the crimes occurred between June 2015 and April 2018.
A spokesperson for the church has denied the allegations. Garcia’s attorney has been quoted as saying that the crimes Garcia is being charged with are not in his character, and that he is instead the target of a “high-tech hit job.”
Along with two other defendants, Garcia was arrested last week at LAX and was being held in lieu of $50 million dollars bail. The others, A. Ocampo and S. M. Oaxaca – both women – are also being charged with sex crimes including forcible rape of a minor, and are being held in lieu of $25 million bail and $5 million bail respectively. A fourth suspect, A. R. Melendez, is still at large and being sought by police. According to prosecutors, all four defendants are believed to have forced their victims into performing sexual acts because disobeying “the apostle” (Garcia) would anger god.
The defendants are set to be arraigned in Los Angeles Superior Court soon.
The Arraignment Process
The arraignment is usually the first part of the criminal procedure that occurs before a judge or magistrate in a court room. The purpose of the arraignment is to provide the accused with a read of the charge, or charges, that are being held against them. This right is guaranteed under the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to protect defendants from being held in custody for long periods of time without knowing what they’re being charged with or why they’re being held. Arraignments must occur within 72-hours of someone’s arrest, or else it’s possible that the defendant can argue that their right to a “fair and speedy trial” has been violated.
The rules surrounding an arraignment will depend on whether the defendant is being charged with state or federal-level crimes, as well as the specific laws of the state in which the arraignment is taking place. The rules often differ regarding felonies and misdemeanors, as some crimes may not require an arraignment. Generally though, if there’s a possibility that the defendant will be receiving a jail sentence if convicted, they’ll be given an arraignment.
Arraignments can have more than one step before they’re complete. First and foremost, the point is to get the defendant before a judge to explain the charges being brought against them. The defendant will also be notified of their right to representation, and, if no private counsel can be found, a public defender will be appointed to their case. When no representation has been obtained prior to the arraignment, and a public defender needs to be appointed, it will happen during this first step and the actual arraignment will be postponed to another day when counsel is available.
Once counsel is available and the charges have formally been read to the defendant, he or she will be allowed to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. In some cases, the right to an arraignment can be waved by the defendant and they can enter their formal plea without having the charges read. This usually happens as part of an exchange with the prosecuting attorney who will be able to speed up the court process.
At the arraignment, the issue of bail and whether it should be raised, lowered, or if it even needs to be set, will also be discussed. The court can also announce the dates and times of additional hearings, including pre-trial hearings and the actual trial date.
Since the charges Garcia et. al. face are serious, and their bail has been set in the range of many millions of dollars, it’s unlikely those amounts will change much – if at all.