Crime Victims Services - Criminal Justice System - What to Expect
If your crime is a violent crime, call 911 for police and medical responses.
The initial investigation of a crime is usually conducted by a law enforcement officer who travels to the scene. The officer will interview the victims and any witnesses when he/she arrives and will begin an initial report listing the circumstances of the crime. In addition, the officer may take photographs during an inspection of the scene. In certain major felony cases, a deputy county attorney and a county attorney’s investigator may be present at the scene to assist the police in the investigation.
The officers either perform the follow-up investigation themselves or refer the case to a specialized detective. Investigators may contact witnesses for a formal written statement, may obtain further physical evidence, and may request further descriptions.
FORMAL CHARGING PROCEDURE
When the investigating officers believe that they have identified a suspect in a criminal case, he presents his evidence to a prosecutor for review. Usually, the detective makes an oral presentation of the case while the prosecutor reviews the written reports. The prosecutor may request that the detective furnish additional investigative work to complete the case. If the prosecutor believes that the report provides sufficient evidence to indicate that the alleged offender has committed a crime, and if, in his/her judgment, that the case has a reasonable probability of success at a trial, he will file a criminal complaint. Sometimes the prosecutor determines that there is insufficient legal evidence to justify filing a criminal complaint. If filed, the criminal complaint is then presented to a judge, who will either issue a warrant authorizing the arrest of the suspect or a summons requiring the suspect to appear in court on a specific day.
When a defendant is arrested either near the scene of the crime or as a result of an arrest warrant, he or she is taken to jail. Within twenty-four (24) hours after arrest, the defendant must be taken before a judge or commissioner for an initial appearance. Many defendants are released at this time on their own recognizance (OR), a personal promise to return to court when required to do so. When released on his own recognizance, the defendant is not required to post money bail or a bail bond because it is believed that he has sufficient community ties to assure his/her appearance. Defendants with serious records, those who have committed dangerous felonies, or those who have a history of not returning to court as required, are either held in jail or released after posting a cash bond.
The amount of the bond set by the judge or commissioner depends on the crime for which the person has been arrested. Most defendants are released after the initial appearance, but their travel is limited. Contact between the defendant and victims or witnesses is also restricted. Any harassment should be reported to the police, the prosecutor, or the Victim-Witness Program as soon as possible. Remember that if the harassment is not reported, it probably will not stop.
PRELIMINARY HEARING/GRAND JURY (for felony arrests)
After the defendant is arrested, a hearing is scheduled to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence (probable cause) to warrant a trial. Probable cause is determined either by a justice of the peace at a preliminary hearing or by a grand jury. A grand jury is made up of a group of citizens (usually 12-16 people), selected at random from a list of registered voters. In both proceedings, the victims or witnesses may be called to testify. Sometimes charges against the defendant are dismissed because either the justice of the peace of the grand jury determine that there is insufficient evidence to warrant a trial.
If the charges are not dismissed (if probable cause is present), the case is forwarded to superior court for further proceedings. This is accomplished by an Indictment issued as a result of the grand jury hearing or on Information that is filed by the prosecutor after the preliminary hearing.
The first appearance of the defendant in superior court is called an arraignment. Witnesses are not required to appear. The arraignment serves several purposes. First, the defendant is informed for the first time of the exact nature of the charges against him/her. The defendant is also advised that he/she should have an attorney, and that if he/she cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided at public expense. At this time, the defendant is asked to enter a plea to the charges against him. Normally a plea of “not guilty” is entered and a trial date is set. Defendants are entitled to a speedy trial and if the defendant remains in custody, a trial date must be set within sixty (60) days of the arraignment.
Defendants released from custody on bail or personal recognizance must receive a trial date within ninety (90) days of arraignment. This does not mean that the trial will begin within 90 days. Please be aware that there are usually delays in the case. These delays are called continuances. They can be caused by either side and sometimes seem endless. You will find it difficult at times, particularly because you will want to get on with your life. Also understand that these delays are perfectly normal and we have all had to get used to them. If the defendant enters a plea of “guilty” at arraignment, a sentencing date is set.
After the arraignment, the prosecutor gives the defense attorney copies of the state’s case file which includes witness statements and police reports. Witnesses may be contacted by representatives of either the state or the defense for an interview before the trial. Victims DO NOT have to submit to pre-trial interviews by the defense.
As a victim or witness, you have rights. You should request identification from anyone approaching you about the case, and you should insist that they identify themselves as representing either the prosecution or the defense. Remember, if you are a victim, you do not have to submit to pretrial interviews by the defense. If you do agree to do an interview, you may determine the conditions of any interview including, but not limited to: the time and place of the interview, who is present, when to end the interview, and whether or not you wish someone from the prosecutor’s office present during the interview with the defense. Naturally, the prosecutors office would like to be there to see that your rights are respected.
Before the trial, it is also routine for the attorney prosecuting the case to discuss the possibility of a negotiated case settlement with the defense attorney. They must confer with you prior to any disposition of the case. The defense attorney may seek a dismissal of certain charges, a commitment from the prosecutor not to file any other charges, an agreement enabling the defendant to plead guilty to some of the original charges or to some lesser charges or an agreement to recommend a particular sentence. If an agreement is reached, the attorneys and the defendant appear before a judge. The defendant enters a plea of guilty as agreed, and signs a form declaring that he or she is knowingly giving up various rights, including his or her right to a trial and his or her right to cross examine witnesses.
If no negotiated case settlement is reached, the case must go to trial. All parties to the case including the prosecution witnesses and defense witnesses will be subpoenaed (summoned) in advance to testify before a judge, or judge and jury. Witnesses may be excluded from the court room except when they are testifying. This is done to insure that no witness is influenced by the testimony of another witness. Once testimony is complete however, you should be allowed to sit in. If this is not going to be the case, you have every right to question the reason for your exclusion. This does not apply to Victim/Witnesses. Victims are allowed in the courtroom during the entire trial.
SOME THINGS YOU NEED TO REMEMBER THROUGHOUT THE TRIAL
Be quiet in and around the court room. Avoid talking about the case in the presence of the jury, the defendant, or anywhere in the courthouse where you may be observed. Avoid emotional outbursts in the courtroom, no matter how difficult it will be to control yourself. If you feel the need to cry or to express your anger, it is best to leave the courtroom and find a solitary place to do so, and take a friend with you. The presence of family and friends in the court room is a subtle way of conveying to the judge and jury that the victim is a real person and is loved by many.
THE JURY SELECTION
This is the first phase of the jury trial. It can take half a day or it can take several days. Both attorneys, the prosecution and the defense attorney, will have the chance to question prospective jurors and decide if they want them to sit in on this case. Once the jury is selected and sworn, the prosecution presents the case against the defendant. It is the responsibility of the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed and the defendant was guilty of committing that crime. To meet this burden of proof the prosecution presents evidence and calls witnesses to testify. Witnesses are required to testify under oath and may be cross-examined by the defense attorney.
After the prosecution presents the case against the defendant, the defense has an opportunity to present its testimony. The defendant may or may not, on advice of counsel, testify. As in the case with the prosecution witnesses, defense witnesses are subject to cross examination by the prosecutor.
Following the defense’s case, rebuttal witnesses may be called by the prosecution to discredit statements and facts presented by the defense. At the end of a trial, attorneys for the prosecution and the defense make their final arguments to the jury. The judge then instructs the jury in matters of law as applied to this case and about the duty of the jury. The prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Since a unanimous verdict is required by law, a jury that is unable to reach agreement on a verdict is declared “hung” by the judge. The state may then request that the case be retried. If the jury returns a verdict of “not guilty,” it means that the state has failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and the defendant is released.
If the defendant pleads guilty, or if the defendant is found guilty, the judge may schedule a sentencing hearing. This will generally be held within fifteen to thirty days. In the meantime, the court will request a pre-sentence report on the defendant from the probation department.
This report discusses the defendant’s life and any other crimes he may have committed, and will contain a recommendation for a specific sentence. The probation officer will contact the victim(s) and major witnesses as part of his investigation. Furthermore, the victim may submit a statement to the judge through the probation officer. This statement may contain a request for restitution (repayment of monetary losses suffered by the victim). In some situations, testimony especially relevant to the sentence may be heard at a special hearing, when either the prosecutor or the defense attorney have strong feelings about the situation.
Some victims have chosen to organize petition drives asking for a speedy and just sentence in the criminal case in which they are involved. These petitions are presented to the probation officer who is handling the case prior to sentencing. If the defendant is sentenced to jail or prison, he may not have to pay restitution. If the defendant is placed on probation, the judge may order him or her to pay for out-of-pocket losses suffered by the victim. Restitution payments are paid to the Clerk of the Court who sends the payments to the victims.
PROBATION AND PAROLE (Community Supervision)
If the defendant is placed on probation, he or she will be under many restrictions of conduct and travel. Any inappropriate action by a defendant placed on probation, including unauthorized contact with victims and witnesses to his crime, should be reported to the probation office. If the defendant is sent to the Arizona State Prison, he may become eligible for parole (community supervision) after serving approximately 85% of his maximum sentence, or the minimum sentence he received, whichever is shorter. If he is released on parole, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Parole Division is responsible for supervising her/him, and they should be contacted if any problems occur.
Everyone in the criminal justice system works very hard to make sure that each case is handled fairly and correctly. When the time of sentencing comes, the judge weighs all of the information available, and then hands down a sentence within the guidelines of the law that he/she thinks is fair punishment for the defendant’s crime. In spite of all these efforts, it is possible for error, accidental oversights, and other problems to occur. If a defendant thinks that these factors have caused wrongful punishment or conviction, he/she can file an appeal. It is very important to remember that just because someone files an appeal, not every appeal is successful.
When a case is presented to the Arizona Court of Appeals or the Arizona Supreme Court, it is argued by the lawyers who represent the defendant’s side and the State’s side. The lawyer from the state’s side works for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office; not the county attorney’s office.
Victims are never required to testify before the Court of Appeals or the Arizona Supreme Court. Despite the fact that there is no role for victims to play in the appeal process, victims now have the right to know when an appeal is filed and the disposition of the case. To provide this information, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office has established a Victim Witness Assistance Program. They will also be able to help you if you wish to be present should your case be argued to the Arizona Court of Appeals or the Arizona Supreme Court. If you want to know if your case has been appealed, and the disposition of the appeal, you can reach the Attorney General’s Office Victim Witness Assistance Program or you can contact your prosecutor’s victim witness advocate for further information.
* Specific legal problems or questions relating to your testimony should be directed to the prosecuting attorney assigned to your case.