Criminal Justice Process

  • Arrest

    Law Enforcement makes an arrest based upon the witnesses’ information.  After an arrest most defendants 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. Should the defendant attempt to contact you in violation of his conditions of release you should notify law enforcement immediately.  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, the Court holds a hearing within 24 hours called 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 notify law enforcement 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. While this meeting does not occur in the formal setting of a courtroom, it is extremely important in the prosecution 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 securing sworn testimony in an effort 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.  A victim’s failure to attend a State Attorney hearing could prove fatal to the successful prosecution of a case.  The State Attorney’s Office will do everything within our abilities to coordinate this hearing with your schedule.   

    Criminal charges must be filed with the Court by 21 days after the defendant’s arrest.  At this meeting, the Assistant State Attorney will seek the victim’s input regarding what sentence he or she would like to see imposed upon a successful conviction of the defendant.  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, he must determine whether a crime has been committed and if so what crime or crimes.  Then pursuant to his oath he must assert that he has a good faith basis to believe he can prove the charges beyond and to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt.  It is then and only then that he may file the formal charging document, called an information, officially instituting a criminal prosecution against the defendant. 

    However, if after conducting the State Attorney hearing the Assistant State Attorney does not believe there is sufficient evidence to warrant prosecution, then he will file a document called a No Information officially terminating the case.  If the Assistant State Attorney determines that the case cannot be prosecuted, he will attempt to notify the victim prior to that decision being filed with the Court.

  • Arraignment

    Anywhere from two (2) to four (4) weeks after the Information has been filed, the defendant goes to court and enters a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty”.  Occasionally, when represented by counsel, a defendant may enter a written plea of not guilty thus eliminating the need to appear in court.  Usually a “not guilty” plea is entered in order to give the defense attorney time to learn about the case.  As with all stages in the proceedings, you have a right to be present at the arraignment, but you attendance is not necessary to ensure a successful prosecution.   

    When the defendant enters a plea of not guilty at arraignment, the court will set the defendant’s case on a trial docket.  You will receive a subpoena telling you of the trial date and time.  If you have any questions or concerns regarding the scheduling of trial, it is imperative that you contact the assigned Assistant State Attorney.  Your subpoena will contain the name of the assigned Assistant and his or her contact phone number.  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.  It is also of the utmost importance that you keep the assigned Assistant State Attorney or your victim advocate apprised of any change in your address.

  • Depositions

    This is the way the defense attorney learns about the case.  The defense attorney has the right to interview all witnesses listed by the State with limited exceptions.  You will be notified of a deposition by subpoena which will generally be served upon you in person. Read the subpoena very carefully as it will instruct you when and where your deposition will be conducted.  Should you have any questions or concerns regarding your deposition you should contact the assigned Assistant State Attorney or your victim advocate.

    If you have previously provided a written or recorded statement to law enforcement, it is imperative that you review that statement before your deposition.  If you have not had an opportunity to review your statement before the deposition ask either the defendant attorney or Assistant State Attorney to provide you with a copy to review.  Your deposition will be either digitally recorded or taken down by a court reporter.  A deposition is a formal proceeding and is taken from the witness while under oath.  The defendant will not be present at the deposition.

    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 should one not be present upon your arrival.  However, if the Assistant State Attorney is unable to attend, the defense attorney has the right to take the deposition anyway.  You may have the right to have Victim Advocate accompany you during the deposition.

    While you are required to answer a defense attorney’s questions during an officially noticed deposition, you are not otherwise required to subject yourself to an interview by the defendant, his attorney or an investigator working on behalf of the defendant.  You are free to speak with them if that is your choice, but you are not compelled by law to do so.  Should you be approached by any person seeking to take your statement and should you have any question about that feel free to contact the Assistant State Attorney assigned to your case or your victim advocate.

  • Plea Negotiations

    After the defense attorney has conducted deposition in the case and reviewed all of the material provided by the State such as reports and witness statements, he and the Assistant State Attorney may begin to engage in plea negotiations.  Plea negotiations involve discussions between the Assistant State Attorney and the defense attorney regarding the terms and parameters of the defendant’s punishment.  The assigned Assistant State Attorney will seek input from and give great weight to the wishes of the victim.  If the parties come to an agreement on the terms of a plea, you will be notified of all future court appearances.  Again you have the right to be present at any and all court appearances should you so desire.  If you have any questions regarding the impending resolution of a case, you should contact the assigned Assistant State Attorney or your victim advocate immediately. 

  • Docket Sounding

    Docket soundings are held prior to trial.  A docket sounding is the trial courts method of monitoring the progress of a case.  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. It is important that you monitor the events occurring at a docket sounding as they will advise you of when you may be needed to appear in court.  Again as with all court appearances you have a right to be present at a docket sounding but your attendance 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.  Depending upon the nature of the charges some cases may be resolved within a matter of months while others may take a year or longer.  Therefore, it is imperative that you keep the assigned Assistant State Attorney or victim advocate updated with any change in your address or contact information.  You should know that once you have been served with a trial subpoena, you are under subpoena until the conclusion of the case and are therefore compelled to appear in court as necessary. 

  • 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.  There are many rules and legal procedures involved in a trial.  To assist you, with this admittedly stressful event, the assigned Assistant State Attorney and your victim advocate will meet with you well in advance of trial to discuss what you can expect.  You should ask that you be provided with a copy of your deposition and a copy of any prior statements that you might have given in the proceedings.  The Assistant State Attorney will also discuss the questions he intends to ask you during trial.  It is completely appropriate for a witness to discuss with a lawyer the testimony he or she may be expected to give in court.  You must always remember that as a witness your number one responsibility is to tell the truth! 

    If you are called to testify in open court, your victim advocate will be in court with 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. 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.  It is imperative that if you are requesting restitution, you must provide documentation in support of that request so that we can prove this amount at sentencing.  After the defendant is sentenced you will be notified by letter of the specific sentence he received.

    There are several possible sentences that a defendant could receive.  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”, and the amount of time a defendant may be incarcerated is determined by the Judge.  A prison sentence is any term of incarceration that exceeds one (1) 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

    Under certain circumstances, you may be eligible for witness fees when you are required to attend a court hearing or trial.  You should ask the Assistant State Attorney handling your case whether you are entitled to these fees and how you go about receiving them, or you can call the Victim Assistance Program to help you with this process.