Steps in a Case
A written order from a Judge that a person be arrested. If you are a victim or a witness, the warrant is based on written statement about the crime in which you are involved.
An amount paid by the defendant to make sure he or she will appear in court.
A hearing, usually in general sessions court to determine if there is reason to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed it.
An independent group of private citizens who listen to information about the crime in order to decide whether the case should go to trial.
If the Grand Jurors decide that a case should go to trial, they “return” an indictment charging the defendant with the crime or crimes he may have committed.
The first scheduled appearance by the defendant in Criminal or Circuit Court. The indictment returned by the Grand Jury is read and the defendant is given a copy. Arrangements are made by an attorney for the defendant and a trial date may be set.
This is sometimes inaccurately called “Plea Bargaining” which is a term used to describe a method of disposing of cases without a trial. Most defendants plead guilty. Once a defendant decides to plead guilty, it is then up to the State’s Attorney’s Office and the defendants attorney to work out an agreement to present to the Judge. The defendant may agree to plead guilty to the crime(s) charged or to a lesser offense, and there may be an agreement that the State Attorney’s Office will recommend a sentence to the Judge. The Judge may accept or reject the plea. Although you will not have the final say as to what sentence is given, the State’s Attorney Office is interested in your viewpoint.
The court proceeding in which the State Attorney’s Office presents the case for the state, attempting to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime as charged. The defendant may present proof to dispute the State’s claim. Usually the defendant chooses whether a Judge or a twelve person petit jury will decide the case.
Stand-by or on Call
If the Lawyers are unsure whether a case will be ready you may be told not to come to court unless called at the last minute by a Victim-Witness Coordinator or someone else in the State’s Attorney Office. You will be asked to stay close to your telephone during court time so that you can be reached if needed. This often saves victims and witnesses unnecessary trips to court.
After a defendant’s guilty plea is accepted or he or she is found guilty after trial, the Judge decides what happens. The defendant may be sent to prison, or the sentence may be “suspended” and the defendant put on probation. Probation means a defendant is left free as long as he or she does what the Judge has told he or she to do. He or she may also be placed in other programs.
Convicted defendants have a right to appeal their convictions and sentences to higher courts. These courts examine the record made of the trial proceedings to determine if reversible error has occurred. If a higher court finds that serious error has occurred in the trial proceedings it might remand the case for a new trial or even dismiss the charges. Although most appeals are unsuccessful, the process is often very lengthy.
Is the release of a person from prison before the end of his or her sentence under certain conditions or restrictions, which must be met, or the person will be returned to prison.