Criminal Justice Process

ARREST
Law Enforcement makes an arrest based upon the witnesses’ information.  After an arrest most assailants are entitled to bond.  As a victim you are a witness.  When you hear that someone is “out on bail or bond” it means he has paid a certain amount of money or agreed to certain conditions for his release.  These conditions or money are to make sure he will show up for Court.  Part of the conditions may be that the defendant is not to have any contact with the victim except  through the Attorneys. If you would like to have input or be notified about the accused’s bond hearing, let the Assistant State Attorney or Victim Assistance Program know.

FIRST APPEARANCE
If an arrest is made, within 24 hours the Court holds a hearing call the "First Appearance Hearing." At this hearing the judge hears facts and decides whether a bond amount should be set and if so, how much. If the defendant is able to post the bond amount, he or she may be released pending trial. Our Constitution guarantees the right to release on reasonable bond, before conviction.

Frequently, the Judge will include a special condition ordering the Defendant not to have contact with the victim. If you are contacted or harassed by the Defendant, you should contact the State Attorney's Office immediately. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE PRESENT AT THE FIRST APPEARANCE. HOWEVER, YOUR PRESENCE IS NOT NECESSARY.

STATE ATTORNEY HEARING

The State Attorney Hearing takes place at the State Attorney’s Office. The meeting is informal but extremely important in the progress of the case.  The accused is not present, nor is his lawyer.  The Assistant State Attorney assigned to handle the case meets with all the witnesses to determine what can be proven in court.  If there is enough evidence the Assistant State Attorney will tell you which crimes the accused will be prosecuted for.  These charges must be filed with the Court by 21 days after the arrest.  At this meeting the Assistant State Attorney will ask you for your input.  The Assistant State Attorney will pursue a prompt and timely disposition of the case in order to minimize the stress for you.

 

FILING DECISION

Once the Assistant State Attorney has reviewed the case, and when necessary and interviewed (taken testimony from) the victims and witnesses in the case, if the Assistant State Attorney determines that there is sufficient evidence, criminal charges may be filed. The formal charging document is called "Information." If the Assistant State Attorney determines that the case cannot be prosecuted, he or she will attempt to notify the victim prior to that decision being filed with the Court. The paperwork filed with the Court stating that the State will not prosecute is known as a "No Bill."

ARRAIGNMENT

Approximately two (2) weeks after the charges are filed, the defendant goes to court and enters a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty”.  Usually a “not guilty” plea is entered in order to give the defense attorney time to learn about the case.  The Judge also sets the case for trial at the Arraignment.  You will receive a subpoena telling you of the trial date and time.  On the subpoena there is a phone number for you to call.  It is very important for you to call because your case may be continued for some reason or resolved without having to have a trial and this call could save you a trip. AS A VICTIM YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE PRESENT AT THE ARRAIGNMENT.  HOWEVER, YOUR PRESENCE IS NOT REQUIRED.



DEPOSITIONS

This is the way the defense attorney learns about the case.  The defense attorney has the right to talk with all the witnesses.  He sends all the witnesses a subpoena.  The subpoenas are usually brought to you in person.  Read the paper carefully.  It will tell you exactly where to go and when to be there.  Normally an Assistant State Attorney will be with you when you talk with the defense attorney.  When you arrive at the deposition you have the right to ask the defense attorney to call an Assistant State Attorney to come if one is not there already.  However, if the Assistant State Attorney is unable to attend, the defense attorney has the right to take the deposition anyway.  The statement you give will be recorded by a court reporter in person or on a tape recorder.  The attorney will explain this to you at the deposition.  You may have a Victim Advocate with you during the deposition
Florida law allows the defense attorney to interview witnesses prior to trial. This interview is called a "deposition." You may receive a subpoena from the Defendant's attorney requiring you to appear to have your deposition taken. You will be sworn in prior to your deposition being taken, and it will be taken before an official court reporter, the Defense Attorney, and an Assistant State Attorney. THE DEFENDANT WILL NOT BE PRESENT. AS A VICTIM YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO HAVE A VICTIM ADVOCATE ACCOMPANY YOU TO THE DEPOSITION IF YOU SO DESIRE.

YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO TALK TO THE DEFENDANT, HIS OR HER ATTORNEY, OR A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE DEFENDANT, SUCH AS A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR, WITHOUT A SUBPOENA AND THE PRESENCE OF AN ASSISTANT STATE ATTORNEY. IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS CONCERNING THIS MATTER, PLEASE CONTACT THE ASSISTANT STATE ATTORNEY OR VICTIM ADVOCATE.


PLEA NEGOTIATIONS

After the defense attorney talks with all the witnesses, he and the Assistant State Attorney may talk about the defendant changing his plea to “guilty”.  If this happens you will be notified by letter.  When you get this letter it will include a number for you to call if you have any questions. Many cases are settled without witnesses having to go to trial.


STATUS CONFERENCE
The status conference hearing is held prior to trial. At this hearing, the Defendant is required to appear in Court to advise the Judge whether or not he or she is ready for trial. The Defendant may also announce that he or she wishes to enter a plea. Finally, the Defendant may request a continuance if he or she is not ready for trial. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE PRESENT AT THE STATUS CONFERENCE. HOWEVER, YOUR PRESENCE IS NOT REQUIRED.

PRETRIAL CONFERENCE HEARING
The pretrial conference hearing is held one or two weeks prior to trial. The Defendant is required to appear in Court and the Court will schedule the trial for a specific date and time. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE PRESENT AT THE PRETRIAL CONFERENCE HEARING. HOWEVER, YOUR PRESENCE IS NOT REQUIRED.

CONTINUANCES
It is not unusual for a case to be continued or postponed. The State Attorney's Office will try the case as quickly as possible. However, there are often circumstances that cannot be controlled by the Assistant State Attorney which make a continuance necessary.

IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT THAT YOU CONTACT THE WITNESS COORDINATION OFFICE OR THE STATE ATTORNEY'S OFFICE UPON RECEIVING A SUBPOENA. THEY NEED TO HAVE CURRENT TELEPHONE NUMBERS AND ADDRESSES TO NOTIFY YOU OF A CONTINUANCE OR A CANCELLATION OF TRIAL. YOU NEED NOT COME TO COURT FOR A CONTINUANCE.

TRIAL

If the defendant does not decide to enter a guilty plea, he is entitled to a trial.  This is when you will be needed to testify in Court.  This trial normally will be  within 175 days of the arrest, (this is sometimes referred to as a “speedy trial”), but it may be continued by the Judge.  There are many rules and legal procedures involved in a trial.  If you are needed to testify there will be a Victim Advocate to help explain things to you.  The Assistant State Attorney and the Victim Advocate will be glad to show you the court room before you have to testify.  The Victim Advocate can help you with transportation or perhaps explain to your employer why you have to be in court.  Try not to worry about trial until you know for sure that it is necessary for you to testify.


CLOSE OF THE TRIAL
Following presentation of evidence by the Assistant State Attorney and the Defendant's Attorney, each attorney summarizes their side of the case in the "Closing Arguments." Following Closing Arguments, the jury is sent out of the courtroom to decide whether or not the Defendant is guilty. The jury's decision is called the "Verdict."

PRE-SENTENCE INVESTIGATION
When the Judge schedules the sentencing, he or she sometimes orders the Department of Corrections to complete a report on the Defendant which includes the Defendant's prior criminal history, personal background, etc. The report includes a section for input from the victim of the crime which provides the Court with information regarding restitution for losses, damages, and injuries to the victim and the victim's recommendations as to the sentence. The victim has the right to request that the Assistant State Attorney permit the victim to review a copy of the Pre-sentence Investigation Report prior to the sentencing hearing if one was completed.

SENTENCING

Once the defendant either enters a plea or is found guilty by a jury, the Judge sets a time to sentence him. The Department of Corrections may complete a PreSentence Investigation for the Judge.  You have the right to read the nonconfidential part of this PSI.  You will be notified in writing of the sentencing date.  This letter will explain that you have the right to be present and speak to the Judge, or you can write the Judge a letter, or you can let the Assistant State Attorney speak on your behalf.  This Victim Impact Statement can explain the effect the crime had on you and your family and also give specific amounts of requested restitution.  After the defendant is sentenced you will be notified by letter of the specific sentence he received.

 

There are several possible sentences.  Some of them are:

 

County Jail Time: Confinement in the County Jail for a time of one year or less.

State Department of Corrections: Usually referred to as “Prison”, amount of time determined by Judge and exceeds one year.

Community Control: Usually referred to as “House Arrest” or “Prison at Home” where defendant is allowed to remain in community and work, but must be at home during non-working hours.  This is strictly enforced.

Probation: Defendant is allowed to remain in community and move freely under supervision of Parole and Probation Department.  Many times there are special conditions as part of the probation which may include restitution (where appropriate) or drug/alcohol treatment, etc.

WITNESS FEES

You are eligible for witness fees whenever you are required to attend.  Ask the attorney  who subpoenaed you to tell you how to receive this witness fee, or call the Victim Assistance Program to help you obtain the fee.

   
Bruce Colton, State Attorney
BRUCE COLTON
STATE ATTORNEY