Understanding the Court System
Important Things You Should Know
The decision to arrest a defendant is up to the law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. After our office receives a report from law enforcement, an Assistant State Attorney will review all evidence and determine if criminal charges can be filed in the case. Such charges will be filed in the form of a legal document called an “information.”
A case may be delayed by the judge for many different reasons.
At this proceeding, witnesses testify under oath before a judge and, usually, a jury. It is the judge or jury that determines if the case has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Juvenile cases are heard by judges only and not juries.
If the decision to file charges is made, the defendant appears at a hearing before a judge, who advises him of his rights and the charges against him. If the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney; the judge may appoint an attorney to represent him. The defendant, at this stage, may plead “guilty;” if he pleads “not guilty,” the case will proceed to the next stage. Unless otherwise informed, victims are not required to attend this hearing.
At this proceeding, a defendant’s attorney takes sworn testimony from witnesses. Everything said during a deposition is recorded. Testimony from the deposition can be compared to the testimony given at the trial. The attorney for the defendant and the Assistant State Attorney will be present at the deposition. The victim is entitled to have a Victim Advocate be present at the deposition. Please bring a photo ID to the deposition.
Many cases can be settled without trial, through negotiations between the Assistant State Attorney and the defense attorney. The victim will be consulted and his/her views considered during this process. Once the attorneys have agreed to settle the case, it is subject to acceptance by the judge. Plea negotiation is an accepted procedure that eliminates the need for a trial.
If the defendant is found guilty or pleas, the judge decides what 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. 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 the right to make an impact statement at the sentencing.