How the Criminal Justice System Works
The defendant may be physically arrested and taken to jail, or he/she may be charged at large, which means the police officer writes a report and forwards it to the State Attorney for review and possible prosecution.
The State Attorney will review all evidence and determine whether criminal charges are filed in each case. Some cases are dropped at this point, and some will be filed in the form of a legal document called an "Information."
Some defendants will post bond and be released immediately after the arrest. Victims and witnesses are not required to be present, but you do have the right to attend and make the Judge aware of your feelings of the release of the defendant.
At this hearing, the defendant appears before the judge, who advises him of his rights and the charges against him as filed by the State Attorney's office. If the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney, the judge may appoint a public defender. The defendant, at this stage, may plead guilty or not guilty; if he pleads not guilty, the case will proceed to the next stage. If he pleads guilty, the case moves to "Sentencing."
At this proceeding, a defendant's attorney takes sworn statements from witnesses. Everything said during a deposition is recorded. Testimony from the deposition will be compared to the testimony given at trial. The attorney for the defendant will be present at the deposition. The State Attorney will be present, if possible. The victim is entitled to have a Victim Advocate attend and be present at the deposition. The defendant may NOT be present during the deposition of a victim or a witness.
The Subpoena is a court order which requires a person to appear and testify about the facts of a case. In a criminal case, subpoenas can be issued for trial or for deposition and may require you to produce certain evidence or documents. If you fail to appear in court in response to the subpoena, you risk being held in contempt of court.
A case may be delayed by the judge for many different reasons. This will occur regularly, and you should not be surprised if this occurs several times before the case is resolved.
Many cases can be settled without a trial through negotiations between the Assistant State Attorney and the defense attorney. The victim has the right to be informed and to provide input during this process. Once the attorneys have agreed to settle the case, it is subject to acceptance by the judge. Plea bargaining is an accepted procedure which eliminates the need for a trial.
At this hearing, witnesses will testify under oath before a judge and sometimes a jury. It is the judge or jury who determines if the case has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant is found not guilty, they will be released.
If the defendant is found guilty, the judge decides what type of sentence should be imposed. While the judge has some discretion in the sentencing, he must still follow the sentencing guidelines. Depending on the type of crime and prior convictions, the guidelines provide a range of possible penalties ranging from probation and community service work to jail. If the judge orders the defendant to pay restitution, the victim may be reimbursed for damages or losses suffered as a result of the crime. The victim has a right to make an impact statement at the sentencing. If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty at the time of pre-trial, sentencing will occur at that time. If sentencing is to occur at a later date, the victim will receive notification of the scheduled date.
RELEASE OF DEFENDANT
Upon the release of a defendant from custody, you will be notified in writing, provided your current address is on file with Victim/Witness Management. A change of address form has been provided for your convenience. If you should move or change your telephone number, please indicate the changes on the form and forward it to Victim/Witness Management or the State Attorney's office, so they can update the pertinent information. If the defendant has been sent to state prison, you must notify the Department of Corrections.
Crime Prevention Guide