An overview of the court process in criminal trials. What to expect from the system and what the system expects from you.
As the victim or witness, your role is critical. You have seen, heard, know or experienced something that is important to the investigation of this case. Immediately report the crime to your local police or sheriff's department.
The police will ask you questions regarding the incident and will then prepare a police report. Tell the police exactly what happened: date, time, place, description of the offender(s), names and addresses of any witnesses (if possible), items that may have been taken, property that was damaged and injuries that you may have received.
Be truthful in providing information. Please keep the agency advised where you are living and your telephone numbers.
How does a criminal charge get filed?
The police department will bring the reports of arrested suspects to the State's Attorney's Office to file a complaint. After reviewing the report, if the State's Attorney's Office determines that there is enough evidence to prosecute a case, a complaint will be issued and charges will be filed. If there is insufficient evidence, a complaint will not be issued, and no charges will be filed, although additional investigation may be required. If an individual is not arrested, the Police Department can seek to have a warrant issued.
What happens at the first court appearance?
If charges are filed and the accused person is arrested, he will soon appear in court. The Judge will set bond and advise the defendant of the charges against him.
The court considers several things when determining bond for the accused: the nature of the offense, evidence, defendant's employment status, mental condition, ties to the community and convictions. In most cases, a "no contact" order will be entered as a condition of the defendant's bond. That condition of bond will remain in place throughout the duration of the case or until further order of the Court.
Once bond is set, the Judge will set another court date for the defendant. Victims and witnesses are not required to be present at the first court appearance.
When will I have to appear in court?
Typically, victims and witnesses are only required to appear at a jury trial or bench trial date. In some instances, however, you may be required to appear in court for a pretrial matter. In the event that your presence in required at such a hearing, you will be contacted via mail and/or telephone by the State's Attorney's Office.
How will I be notified about my case?
Victims and witnesses are notified by mail and telephone. In some instances, the victims or witnesses may receive a subpoena, which is hand delivered in person by a Sheriff's deputy. A subpoena is a court order requiring the person named on it to appear in court. The subpoena will tell you when and where to appear and will have a telephone number on it should you have any questions. If your name, address or telephone number should change, notify the State's Attorney's Office immediately. Failure to abide by the court order/subpoena may result in the witness or victim being found in contempt of court.
What will happen when I appear in court?
There is always a chance that the case may be continued for any number of reasons. One of the parties may be sick or out of town. The defendant could ask for more time to find a lawyer or prepare his case. Sometimes, there are a great number of cases and they can't all be heard at the same time.
Should the case proceed as planned, a trial is held to determine if the prosecution can show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the crimes he is accused of. In a jury trial, that decision is made by a jury of 12 citizens from the surrounding community. In a bench trial, a judge will make that decision. Be aware that the defendant is entitled to be in the courtroom during the trial and will normally be represented by an attorney.
What should I do if I am threatened?
Anyone who seeks to threaten or bribe you into dropping charges or into not testifying is obstructing justice and may be committing additional crimes. Immediately report any threat or bribe to the police and to the Assistant State's Attorney or advocate assigned to your case.
What should I do if a defense attorney contacts me?
The defense attorney has the right in a criminal case to interview all witnesses. You have the choice whether you want to speak with him / her. If you would feel more comfortable having the Assistant State's Attorney or advocate that is assigned to your case present at the interview, let them know that.
Will someone be in court with me?
The State's Attorney's Office has specially trained domestic violence advocates who are available to accompany you at these court proceedings. Support can be especially helpful at this time. The advocate can help you deal with feelings about testifying in court or from having to see the defendant in the courtroom.
They can explain what is involved in each step and act as a liaison with the prosecutor. The advocate can help you navigate through this sometimes confusing process by: