As a victim or witness to a crime, your help is vital to criminal justice. Without your cooperation, our system cannot function efficiently and guarantee a fair trial for the accused based on all of the facts. Justice takes time, and your patience and commitment are essential. The following information will show the usual steps that a case follows through the system.

INVESTIGATION/ARREST
When you call the police, they will look for evidence, speak with witnesses and ask you questions about what happened. If the offender is still at the scene and the police decide that they have probable cause that a crime was committed, they will arrest or cite and release the suspect at the scene. If the suspect is not at the scene or if more investigation is required, the police may obtain an arrest warrant, or the court issues the suspect a notice to appear later.
 

➡️  You have a right to prevent your confidential information from being released to the defendant. Victims of certain crimes such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, have the right to be named as a confidential victim in police reports. Tell the police officer about your preference to be a confidential victim or contact a victim advocate for more information.



REVIEW FOR CRIMINAL CHARGES
After the police complete their investigation, the police will send a copy of the report to the District Attorney’s Office. A Deputy District Attorney (DDA) will review the information submitted by the police and determine if there is enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime has taken place. If not, the person who was arrested will be released. If there is enough evidence, the person will be charged. The District Attorney will create a written document called a complaint outlining the charges against the suspect. The charge(s) will either be a misdemeanor or a felony.
 

Misdemeanor
A misdemeanor is a crime that is punishable by no more than a year in county jail. Misdemeanor cases often move through the criminal justice process quickly.  

Felony
A felony is a crime that is punishable by more than a year in county jail or state prison. Many felony cases move through the criminal justice process slowly.

➡️  As a victim of crime, you have the right to confer with the DDA about the arrest of the suspect and the charges filed.

Arraignment
The offender, now defendant, will appear in court to:


  • be informed of the charges against him/her,
  • be informed of his/her rights,
  • be offered an attorney, and
  • to enter a plea (most defendants enter a plea of not guilty at this point).
Types of pleas: defendants may plead not guilty, guilty or no contest (has the same impact in criminal court as guilty) to charges.  

The judge will also consider the custody status of the defendant. If the defendant is in jail, the judge will set a bail amount or release the defendant.

In certain cases, a criminal protective order will be issued prohibiting the defendant to have contact with the victim. If you are concerned for your safety, please contact a victim advocate for more information about obtaining a restraining order.  

If the defendant does not plead guilty, the judge will set a hearing for the case to return to court.
 

➡️  As a victim of crime, you have several rights at this stage:
  1. To have the judge consider your safety in setting a bail amount for a defendant. You have a right to tell the judge if you would feel unsafe if the defendant was released from jail.
  2. To be notified if the defendant is released from jail. If you would like to be notified when a defendant is released, please contact a victim advocate for assistance.
  3. To be notified of the arraignment and future court dates.
  4. To be present at the arraignment and future court dates.

 
The following information relates to the specific charges in your case. If your case is charged as a felony, please proceed to the felony cases section for information about the process.
 

Misdemeanor cases:
Arraignment
(See description above)

Pretrial conference
The pretrial conference is a meeting that occurs in the judge’s chambers between the deputy district attorney, defense attorney and judge. The purpose of the pretrial conference is to consult with the judge to see if the case can settle before trial.

If you would like to make sure that the judge considers the impact that the crime has had on you before a pretrial offer is made, you can submit a statement in writing.

If the defendant is willing to accept the plea agreement, he/she will plead no contest during the pretrial conference hearing and the defendant will likely be sentenced immediately. If you would like to tell the judge how the crime has impacted you, it is suggested that you attend the pretrial conference hearing.

If the defendant is unwilling to accept the plea agreement, the judge will set a date for the jury trial.

➡️  As a victim of crime, you have several rights at this stage:
  1. To be notified of the pretrial conference hearing and be present in court if you wish.
  2. To find out what the pretrial offer will be. If you would like to know about the pretrial offer, contact a victim advocate for information.
  3. To refuse an interview with the defense attorney/defense investigator.
  4. If the defendant pleads guilty, to tell the judge how the crime has impacted you.

Trial
During the trial the deputy district attorney and defense attorney will make opening statements, present evidence and witnesses, cross examine witnesses and present closing statements. The jury (or judge in a bench trial) will deliberate. To reach a verdict all 12 jurors must agree on the defendant’s guilt. Once deliberations have ended, the judge or jury will announce the verdict.

The possible verdicts are:
Guilty: the jury or judge found the defendant guilty of all or some of the charges.  

Not guilty: the jury or judge determined that there is not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. The defendant is acquitted of the charges, meaning that he/she is free to go. The DDA cannot appeal or bring the case to trial again.

Hung jury: the jury was not able to agree on a verdict. The judge will declare a mistrial. The DDA may choose to dismiss the case, try to negotiate a plea with the defense or bring it to trial again.

➡️  As a victim of crime, you have several rights at this stage:
  1. If you are called to testify at trial, you may have the right to a support person or our court facility dog.
  2. To be notified of the trial and be present if you wish. There are some exceptions to who may attend a trial. Please contact a victim advocate for more information.

Sentencing
A sentencing hearing occurs after the guilt stage of the case. In misdemeanors, the sentencing often occurs at the hearing where the defendant pled guilty or immediately after a verdict is rendered. At the sentencing, the judge sets a sentence for the crimes committed by the defendant.

➡️  As a victim of crime, you have several rights at this stage:
  1. To be notified of the sentencing hearing and to be present if you wish.
  2. To provide a victim impact statement where you tell the judge how the crime has impacted you.
  3. To receive an order for restitution.
  4. To be notified when the defendant is released from jail.

    
FELONY CASES:
Arraignment
(See description above)

Preliminary hearing  
The preliminary hearing is where the DDA presents evidence to prove to the judge that there is enough evidence to show that a crime occurred, and that the defendant committed the crime. This is usually done by presenting evidence and witnesses.

If the judge determines that there is not enough evidence some charges may be dropped, or the case may not move forward to trial. If the judge determines that there is enough evidence, the defendant will be “held to answer” for the charges and the case will move forward.  The case will be scheduled for another arraignment, in Superior Court, and dates will be set for a pretrial conference and a jury trial.

➡️  As a victim of crime, you have several rights at this stage:
  1. To refuse an interview request made by a defense attorney or defense investigator.
  2. If you are called to testify at the preliminary hearing, you may have the right to have a support person or our court facility dog.
  3. To be notified of the preliminary hearing and be present if you wish. There are some exceptions to who may attend a preliminary hearing. Please contact a victim advocate for more information.

Arraignment
(See description above)

Pretrial conference
The pretrial conference is a meeting that occurs in the judge’s chambers between the deputy district attorney, defense attorney and judge. The purpose of the pretrial conference is to consult with the judge to see if the case can settle before trial.

If the defendant is willing to accept the plea agreement, he/she will plead no contest during the pretrial conference hearing and the defendant will be scheduled to return for a sentencing hearing.  
    
If the defendant is unwilling to accept the plea agreement, the judge will set a date for the jury trial.

➡️  As a victim of crime, you have several rights at this stage:
  1. To be notified of the pretrial conference hearing and be present in court if you wish.
  2. To find out what the pretrial offer will be. If you would like to know about the pretrial offer, contact a victim advocate for information.

Trial
During the trial the deputy district attorney and defense attorney will make opening statements, present evidence and witnesses, cross examine witnesses and present closing statements. The jury (or judge in a bench trial) will deliberate. To reach a verdict all 12 jurors must agree on the defendant’s guilt. Once deliberations have ended, the judge or jury will announce the verdict. The possible verdicts are:
Guilty: the jury or judge found the defendant guilty of all or some of the charges.  

Not guilty: the jury or judge determined that there is not enough evidence to prove that the defendant committed the crime. The defendant is acquitted of the charges, meaning that he/she is free to go. The DDA cannot appeal or bring the case to trial again.

Hung jury: the jury was not able to agree that the defendant was guilty. The judge will declare a mistrial. The DDA may choose to dismiss the case, try to negotiate a plea with the defense or bring it to trial again.

➡️  As a victim of crime, you have several rights at this stage:
  1. If you are called to testify at trial, you may have the right to a support person or our court facility dog.
  2. To be notified of the trial and be present if you wish. There are some exceptions to who may attend a trial. Please contact a victim advocate for more information.

Sentencing
A sentencing hearing occurs after the guilt phase of the case. In a felony case, the sentencing often occurs at a separate hearing several weeks after the defendant’s guilt was established (by way of a plea or verdict). At the sentencing, the judge sets a sentence for the crimes committed by the defendant.

➡️  As a victim of crime, you have several rights at this stage:
  1. To be notified of the sentencing hearing and to be present if you wish.
  2. If a presentence report is ordered for your case, you have a right to tell the probation offer how the crime impacted you and to receive a portion of the presentence report upon its completion.
  3. To provide a victim impact statement where you tell the judge how the crime has impacted you.
  4. To the return of your property if it was held as evidence.
  5. To receive restitution.
  6. To be notified when the defendant is released from jail or prison.

NOTES ABOUT THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROCESS
Most cases do not go to trial. Most cases settle before trial.
Defendants can plead guilty to the charges at any time during a case.
Court hearings do not always take place at the precise time scheduled. Calendar conflicts, unavailability of essential witnesses or a legal motion may cause the case to be delayed.
Depending on the stage of the case a person may be referred to as the suspect, offender, defendant or inmate.

COMMONLY USED LEGAL TERMS
Probable cause: Information that would lead a reasonable person to determine that an individual committed a crime.

Criminal charges: Allegation(s) of criminal act(s).

Arraignment: The court hearing where the defendant hears the charges alleged and is advised of his rights. The amount of bail is often determined at the arraignment.

Continuance: A request to reschedule a court hearing for another date.

Pretrial conference: The pretrial conference is a meeting that occurs between the judge, assigned deputy district attorney and defense attorney. The purpose of the pretrial conference is to see if the case can settle before trial.

Subpoena: A subpoena is a court order directing a person to be present in court at a specific time and place.

Preliminary hearing: In felony cases, a preliminary hearing is a hearing where the deputy district attorney presents evidence to show that there is probable cause that the crime occurred, and that the defendant committed the crime. This hearing is also sometimes called a prelim.

Plea: A defendant’s response to the criminal charges. A defendant may plead not guilty, guilty or no contest. A defendant can plead guilty at any time during the criminal justice process.

Trial: The most common and well-known type of trial is a jury trial. Alternately, a defendant has a right to have a trial heard by a judge, also known as a bench, or court, trial.

Sentencing: A hearing that occurs after the guilt stage of the case where the judge sets a
sentence for the crimes committed.