Steps in the Criminal Justice Process
REPORTING THE CRIME: When a crime is reported to law enforcement, an officer is sent to the crime scene to find out what happened. An arrest may be made at that time. Many times a detective with special training is assigned to the case. The detective will interview all parties involved, gather evidence, and write a report that will be sent to the Prosecuting Attorney with a type of charge indicated on the report.
FILED: The office of the Prosecuting Attorney assigns the report to one of the deputy prosecuting attorneys. The report is evaluated to determine if there is enough evidence to file charges. At this time, one of three things will occur: 1) no charges are filed due to lack of evidence; 2) further investigation is required and law enforcement is asked to obtain the information; or 3) charges are filed in a document called an Information.
PRELIMINARY APPEARANCE: The defendant's first appearance in court for further hearings. If a suspect is arrested and held in jail, this hearing must take place within 72 hours. This appearance will occur before formal charges have been filed. If the suspect is not held in jail or is released on bail, a summons will be issued after the prosecutor has filed formal charges. This appearance can take place up to a month after the charges are filed. At the time of the preliminary appearance, the charges will be read to the defendant, he/she will be advised of his/her rights, and appointed an attorney if needed. No plea will be entered. Bail must be set in all cases regardless of the crime committed. The suspect may agree to appear and be released on personal recognizance. Other conditions of release, such as no contact with the victim, can be addressed.
ARRAIGNMENT: The court appearance during which the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty. Approximately two weeks after the first court appearance, the defendant and his attorney will be summoned to court. At this time, the charges will be read again and the defendant will either plead guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, a date for sentencing will be set and a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) may be ordered. If no PSI is ordered, sentencing can take place immediately. If requested, victims have a right to be notified before sentencing can occur. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a trial date will be set. Other hearings may also take place before the trial date.
OMNIBUS HEARING: A hearing where the defense attorney and prosecuting attorney exchange information as to witnesses that will be called at trial, the nature of defense, whether discovery is complete, and whether further hearings besides trial will be necessary. The judge reviews and orders what is requested by either side if he or she deems it appropriate. If a continuance of the case is necessary, it will likely occur at the omnibus hearing.
3.5/3.6 HEARING: Court hearings during which requests are made to suppress or keep certain evidence out of the trial. The 3.5 hearing is for suppression of statements and confessions made by the defendant. A 3.6 hearing is for suppression of physical evidence.
CHANGE OF PLEA HEARING: When the defendant reconsiders and chooses to plead guilty to charges against him/her. Many times the prosecuting attorney will agree to a plea bargain before the trial date. This may be a reduction in the number of charges, the actual charge may be changed or the prosecutor may agree to recommend an amount of time in exchange for the guilty plea.
TRIAL: Subpoenas are issued to anyone who will be testifying in the trial. Trials can be heard before either a judge and jury, or only a judge; it is the defendant's choice. Many times witnesses may not come into the courtroom until they testify. Trials are open to any interested person.
SENTENCING: Sentencing may occur quickly, if a PSI is not ordered. If a PSI is ordered, a sentencing date will be scheduled generally within the next eight weeks after either a conviction or change of plea hearing. Victims are encouraged to present a Victim Impact Statement to the judge explaining how the crime has affected them. The Victim/Witness Unit can accompany victims to the sentencing if they wish to attend.
DEFENDANT: A person who is accused of and/or arrested for breaking the law.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The person whose job it is to help the defendant in court.
EVIDENCE: The facts and physical items involved in the crime, presented by all witnesses at the trial.
VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT: A statement, usually in the form of a letter or spoken directly to the judge, from the family, friends, etc. concerning how this crime has affected the victim. Click here for a VIS cover letter.
INFORMATION: An official document filed with the court by the Prosecuting Attorney setting forth the crimes allegedly committed.
PERSONAL RECOGNIZANCE: The defendant's agreement to appear in court for further hearings.
PLEA BARGAIN: An agreement between the defendant and the Prosecuting Attorney as to what charge the defendant will plead guilty and what sentencing recommendation of the Prosecuting Attorney will make to the court.
PRE-SENTENCING INVESTIGATION (PSI): A complete investigation, contacting all parties involved, by a Department of Corrections caseworker, who reports to the court with recommendations for sentencing.
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY OR DEPUTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: The person elected by the people of the county to represent the State and prove that the defendant committed the crime. Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys are assistants of the Prosecuting Attorney.
SUBPOENA: A written order to be at the court proceedings at a certain date and time.
TESTIFY: To tell the truth in the courtroom about what happened.