Individuals who become victims of crime are suddenly and unexpectedly swept into the criminal justice system. Many people have no prior experience with the system and do not know what will happen as the case proceeds. Here is a brief synopsis of what can occur:
Once a crime occurs, it must be reported to a police officer in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. The officer will take the information and write a report, the report will be forwarded to the District Attorney's Office or the municipal court.
Once the report reaches the District Attorney's Office it is reviewed by an attorney.
If the crime is determined to be felony, it will be referred to the grand jury for review. Crime victims may be subpoenaed to attend the grand jury. The grand jury is held at the District Attorney's Office and all victims who attend the grand jury are accompanied by an advocate. Neither the defendant nor his attorney are present at the grand jury, only victims, witnesses and police are in attendance. The grand jury proceedings are recorded. The grand jury consists of seven jurors, who are randomly selected from the jury pool. A deputy district attorney is present at the grand jury hearing but no judge is present.
If a felony case is indicted, or a misdemeanor case is filed, the case will proceed to an arraignment hearing. At the arraignment, the offender will be offered an attorney and may be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. It is not uncommon for the defendant to enter a plea of not guilty in the beginning of the case. A defendant, charged with a felony, cannot enter a guilty plea on their first appearance unless represented by an attorney.
If the offender enters a not guilty plea, or no negotiations are agreed upon, the case will be set out to a pre-trial conference. This is a hearing where the attorneys may handle pretrial motions and set a trial date. This hearing is frequently cancelled or rescheduled to allow the parties more time to prepare to set a trial date or because the parties have agreed to a trial date.
Finally a trial date is set. In many cases, a plea negotiation will take place and the case will be resolved without going to a trial. If the defendant wants to go to trial or no offer is made, the case will proceed to trial and people who are required to testify will receive a subpoena.
Once a resolution is agreed upon, the defendant will go to court and be sentenced in front of a judge. Crime victims have the right to attend and to address the court at the time of sentencing. Restitution will also be ordered at this time.
*Program advocates are available to provide victims with detailed information about each hearing, including the time and date of the hearing. Advocates also offer to attend hearings with victims whenever requested.
*Victims are allowed to attend any court hearing, but are only required to attend a hearing if they receive a subpoena from one of the parties involved.