Court System Process
The following is a brief and general outline of how cases progress through the criminal justice system.
1. Upon completion of an investigation, the police either:
- make a report and keep it on file at the police department, or
- 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:
- authorizes the warrant
- denies the warrant due to lack of evidence to prove that a crime was committed or identity of who committed the crime or
- 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 warrant is issued by the District Court, and the police attempt to arrest the suspect
- 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.
General Civil Case
Because of the complexity of general civil cases or the amount of money involved, it may be advisable to contact an attorney.
Generally, a civil case is filed because of a disagreement between two people, businesses or organizations. The disagreement usually involves one person believing that he or she has been hurt or had rights violated or property damaged by another person. A civil case is not a criminal case.
If you are the one starting the case, you are called the plaintiff, and the person or business you are suing is called the defendant. In most civil cases, the plaintiff is asking for an amount of money to be paid by the defendant. However, in some civil cases, the plaintiff may be asking the court to tell the defendant to stop some behavior or to do a specific thing. The plaintiff is responsible for paying the filing fees as well as the cost of serving the defendant.
A complaint must be filed, fees must be paid, a summons must be issued, the parties must be served notice of the complaint, hearings must be scheduled and noticed, answers must be given, and hearings must be attended. The end result of the case will be entry of a judgment.