Steps of The Criminal Justice System
An arrest is made by the Police/Sheriff Department or a citation to appear in Court is issued. A report by the arresting officer is sent to the County Attorney's Office. The County Attorney evaluates the facts, circumstances and evidence in the case and determines if charges are to be filed. If you have sustained damages, medical bills, lost wages, etc., submit the amount of your losses, along with proof of payment or billing statements, as soon as possible to the Victim Witness Program. Make sure to identify who the defendant is so they can be submitted to the proper case.
Persons held in custody must be taken before the Judge within 24 hours of arrest. The Initial Appearance assures that the individual was properly charged, that the Complaint and Affidavit on file is correct, that an Attorney is appointed for the defendant (if necessary) and that a date is set for the preliminary hearing. If the bail amount was not set in the arrest warrant, it is set at this time.
Preliminary Hearing or Trial Information
The purpose of the Preliminary Hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify holding the defendant. The State presents evidence showing the defendant probably committed the crime. However, the Preliminary Hearing almost never happens because the same purpose is fulfilled by the filing of the Trial Information (formal charge against the defendant).
The Arraignment is the formal accusation of the defendant where a plea of guilty or not guilty is entered. The defendant does not need to be present if a written arraignment is filed on their behalf by their Attorney.
The majority of the time the defendant will plead not guilty at arraignment and the Judge will then set a trial date. A defendant may change the plea to guilty at any time. Most defendants eventually choose to plead guilty.
Discovery of Evidence
The Defense Attorney has a right to "discover" the State's evidence in the case. However, defendants do not have to tell the prosecutor anything about their defense unless the defendant gives a deposition. Discovery can include viewing evidentiary documents and taking depositions (interviews under oath) of the State's witnesses. The defendant has a right to a speedy trial (right to have the case tried within 90 days of the filing of the trial
information). Victims and witnesses will be contacted, or may receive a subpoena, if the defense wishes to take their depositions. You may request from the Victim Witness Program information on how to testify simply by calling and scheduling an appointment with the Victim Witness Coordinator or a Volunteer of the program. If you need transportation, the Victim Witness Program will assist you.
A group of people are chosen at random from public lists, such as voter registration lists. From this original group, twelve are chosen to serve. The County Attorney and the Defense Counsel choose the make-up of the Jury. Victims and witnesses are not allowed in the courtroom at this procedure or until after they testify.
Once the Jury has been chosen and sworn in, the trial proceeds. Here again, not all trials proceed in the same manner. The Victim Witness Program will prepare you for trial and accompany you to trial. Once a criminal case has been filed and you are a victim/witness, you have a legal obligation to appear and testify. If you do not have transportation, the Victim Witness Program will assist you.
A trial usually consists of the following steps:
Opening Statements (State's and then the Defense's)
State's Witnesses and Evidence
Defense Witnesses and Evidence
Court's Instructions to the Jury
Jury's Deliberation (decision)
1. Hung Jury (cannot come to a unanimous verdict)
2. Not Guilty
After the plea or verdict of guilty, the offender may be referred by the Judge to a probation officer who interviews the offender to determine his special problems, such as drugs/alcohol or a psychological evaluation. The officer then submits a report to the Judge with recommendations regarding sentencing of the offender. This is when victims have the right to Complete a Victim Impact Statement. This document allows you to express your views about the case to the Sentencing Judge.
Victims and witnesses have the right to attend the Sentencing Hearing. Sentencing usually takes place two to six weeks after a plea or verdict of guilty. All crimes are classified in degrees of either a "felony" or misdemeanor." The most common types of sentences imposed are:
1. Entry of Conviction and Imposition of sentence --- defendant must serve the sentence that the Judge imposes.
2. Entry of Conviction and Suspended sentence --- Judge pronounces sentence and then suspends all or part of it. If the defendant then successfully completes a period of probation, he/she will not have to serve the remainder of the sentence.
3. Deferred Judgment-- Judge does not pronounce a sentence and instead places the defendant on probation. If the defendant successfully completes a term of probation, the crime will not count against the defendant on his/her criminal record.
Probation provides control, supervision and rehabilitation for defendants. The defendant must report to a probation officer regularly and must follow specific rules and conditions of the Probation. Probation also gives the defendant a chance to make restitution more quickly if any damages were suffered by the victim of the crime.
If the criminal is incarcerated in a state facility, the corrections authorities acquire jurisdiction over the prisoner. However, the Judge can reconsider a sentence of incarceration within 30 days (misdemeanors) or within 90 days (felonies). After that period has elapsed, the corrections authorities can set a date of release at their discretion within the minimum and maximum limits set by the legislature. Victims are allowed input into the parole hearings. Victims may present information to the board by written statements or personal interview. Victims may also attend the scheduled parole hearings in person and will be afforded the opportunity to give testimony.