|The following is a brief outline of how a case progresses through the criminal justice system. (All italicized words are defined in the common legal terms page of this website. All bolded words are rights provided by the Crime Victim’s Act enacted in 1988.)
1. Upon completion of an investigation, the police either:
a) make a report and keep it on file at the police department, or
b) fill out a complaint/warrant request and submit it, with the report, to the Prosecuting Attorney’s office for review.
2. When the Prosecuting Attorney reviews the complaint, he/she either:
a) authorizes the warrant;
b) denies the warrant due to lack of evidence to prove that a crime was committed or identity of who committed the crime; or
c) returns it to the police for further investigation.
If the case is returned for further investigation, the police will obtain the information the Prosecuting Attorney needs, and then resubmit it to the Prosecuting Attorney.
If the warrant is denied altogether, that is the end of the case.
3. If the Prosecuting Attorney authorizes the complaint:
a) a warrant is issued by the District Court, and the police attempt to arrest the suspect;
b) Victim’s Rights information is mailed to the victim.
4. Once an arrest is made, the defendant is arraigned on the charges in District Court. The defendant may plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If the judge accepts the defendant’s guilty or no contest plea, a sentencing date is set.
5. If the defendant pleads NOT guilty, a pretrial conference is scheduled. If the pretrial conference does not resolve the case with a plea or otherwise, the case is set for either a bench trial or a jury trial. If convicted, the judge sentences the defendant.
6. If the case is resolved with a guilty plea, the case is given to the probation department. A probation agent reviews the case, the defendant’s background, and the victim’s impact statement, then makes a written recommendation to the judge regarding sentencing. Later the judge sentences the defendant based on the information provided by the probation department, and any other information received.
The process is the same as for a misdemeanor case for items 1-4, except that the defendant does not enter a plea at the District Court Arraignment. In a felony case, once an arrest has been made, a preliminary exam is set within 14 days of the arraignment on the charges.
1. If the defendant wants the preliminary exam, a hearing is held and testimony is taken. The Prosecuting Attorney has the burden of proving that there is probable cause to believe that the crime charged was committed and that the defendant committed the offense. If the Judge decides that the burden has been met, the case will be bound over to Circuit Court. A defendant, with the Prosecuting Attorney’s consent, may waive a Preliminary Exam and be bound over to the Circuit Court without an evidentiary hearing.
2. The defendant is arraigned on the charges in Circuit Court and may plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
3. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case is set for a pretrial or status conference among the Judge, the defense attorney and the Prosecuting Attorney. If a plea agreement is reached, then the case is sent to the probation department for a pre-sentence investigation and recommendation, and sentencing is set for a later date. If the case cannot be resolved at this time, it proceeds to trial.
4. If the case comes up for trial, you will receive a subpoena, and should appear as scheduled and be prepared to testify.
5. If a case goes to trial, the judge or jury listens to the evidence and then decides whether the Prosecuting Attorney has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime(s) charged. If the defendant is found not guilty, the defendant cannot be retried for the same crime and is acquitted. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, the case is sent to circuit court probation for pre-sentence investigation and recommendation.
6. By the date of sentencing, the Judge, Prosecuting Attorney, defendant and defense attorney have read the recommendations made by the probation department. Both the Prosecuting Attorney and the defense attorney will address the Judge with any concerns/objections they have with the recommendation. A victim is offered the opportunity to speak about the impact the crime had had on his/her life. The defendant has the opportunity to address the court as well. The Judge will then pass sentence on the defendant.
7. Once the Judge sentences the defendant, the sentence is then administered by the appropriate agency. (probation, jail, prison, etc.)
8. The defendant has the right to appeal a trial based conviction; however, the sentence is often carried out while he/she goes through the appeal process.