Stages in the Justice System

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Stages In The Criminal Justice System

  • Crime Committed
  • Law Enforcement Investigation
  • Suspect Charged or Arrested
  • First Appearance (if arrested)
  • Arraignment
  • Pre-Trial Proceedings
  • Plea or Trial
  • Pre-Sentence Investigation (if relevant)
  • Sentencing

First Appearance

If a defendant is arrested and unable to post bond, he or she is entitled to appear before a judge within 24 hours. At First Appearance, the defendant is informed of the charges for which he/she was arrested and
is advised of his/her rights. The Judge reviews the law enforcement reports and may raise or lower the amount of the bond, or may release the defendant on his or her own recognizance

Filing Of Criminal Charges

When the State Attorney’s Office receives a formal complaint from a law enforcement agency, an assistant state attorney, assigned to the case, will review the reports and may interview witnesses. It is important to cooperate with this office to ensure that all the information about the crime is provided.

This review of the case will determine if there is sufficient evidence to pursue criminal prosecution, and if so, the attorney will file the formal charging document, called an “Information” with the court. You will be notified by letter of this decision.

If there is not sufficient evidence to file criminal charges, the attorney will generate a document indicating no charges will be filed.

If an Information is filed and the defendant has not yet been arrested, an order (a summons) for the defendant to appear in court or an order (a capias or a warrant) for the arrest of the defendant will be issued).

Victim Impact/Restitution Statement

The Office of the State Attorney provides each victim with a Victim Impact/Restitution Statement for completion. This form affords the opportunity to provide information concerning the effect of the crime, the financial losses incurred and your recommendation for a sentence in this case.

Please complete the statement promptly as requested and return it to the State Attorney’s Office. It is important that you document all financial losses claimed by providing COPIES of medical bills, damage estimates, proof of fair market value, or receipts for lost property.

Victim Compensation

The Bureau of Victim Compensation was established by the State of Florida to financially aid innocent victims/survivors of violent crime (including DUI and Hit & Run charges). Victim Compensation is a

Payer of Last Resort that provides benefits, within limits and in the event the crime has produced a financial hardship, for medical expenses, funeral costs, counseling, loss of support and lost wages. Loss of property is not covered except in a limited amount for an elderly or disabled adult who suffered a property loss as a result of a crime which substantially limits normal daily living activities and there is no other source of reimbursement.

You May Be Eligible If You Are...

  • an adult victim or intervenor who has been physically injured as a result of a crime
  • a victim or intervenor who has suffered psychiatric or psychological injury as a result of a forcible felony
  • a surviving spouse, parent or guardian, sibling, child or principal dependent of a deceased victim
  • the parent or guardian of a minor or incompetent victim that has been injured as a result of a crime
  • the parent or guardian of a child witness (16 or under) who was present at the scene of a violent crime and suffered
  • psychological injury
  • an elderly or disabled adult who lost property as a result of a crime
  • a victim of domestic violence in need of relocation assistance

AND IF........

  • the crime was reported to law enforcement within 72 hours
  • the application was filed within one year after the crime (with some exceptions)
  • the victim has fully cooperated with law enforcement, the State Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Attorney General
  • the victim was not engaged in an unlawful activity, adjudicated guilty of a forcible felony or as a habitual offender
  • the victim did not contribute to the circumstances that caused the crime injury or death

The Office of the State Attorney can provide an application for Victim Compensation. Information
and applications are also available by calling the Bureau of Victim Compensation at 1-800-226-6667 or on their website.

Arraignment

As the victim, you have the right to be present at arraignment. However, your presence is not required.

At arraignment, the defendant will be formally advised of the charges filed by the State. The defendant is also informed of the right to an attorney. If the accused indicates an inability to afford an attorney but wishes to be represented, the judge may appoint an attorney from the Public Defender’s Office to the case.

At felony arraignment, the defendant may not necessarily appear if the proper legal documents have been filed. Due to the serious nature of felony charges, a judge rarely accepts a “guilty” or “no contest” plea at arraignment. Therefore, other pre-trial proceedings will be scheduled.

At misdemeanor arraignment, the judge will, quite frequently, accept a plea of “guilty” or “no contest”. Should the defendant enter such a plea and the judge be in a position to impose a sentence immediately, the victim, having made his/her presence known, will then be given an

opportunity to address the court regarding restitution and sentencing. If the defendant requests a trial, a trial date will be set at some future pre-trial proceeding and the victim will be notified of the date.

Depositions

A deposition is an interview or testimony taken under oath of any or all witnesses in a case by the defendant’s attorney after formal charges have been filed. In most cases, an assistant state attorney will also be present during the deposition which may be recorded by either a court reporter or by a tape recorder which will later be produced into a written transcript. The defendant is not present during the deposition which is taken outside the courtroom, usually in a private office. Victims and witnesses who are not incarcerated shall not be required to attend a deposition in any correctional facility. The defense attorney may elect to subpoena you for a certain date, time and place and, if you fail to appear you may be held in contempt of court and the case may be continued.

It is important to be prepared for your deposition and essential that you provide truthful testimony to the defense attorney. The statements you make during your deposition may be used against you if you testify differently in court.

Attending a deposition for the first time may create anxiety. You have the right to be accompanied by a victim advocate if you so choose. Any questions or concerns you have may be addressed to the assistant state attorney prosecuting the case.

Pre-Trial Proceedings

CASE MANAGEMENT, PRE-TRIAL CONFERENCES, PLEA HEARINGS, MOTION HEARINGS, and DOCKET SOUNDING are all types of pre-trial proceedings.

Case Management in Felony Court is a calendared date when the prosecutor, defense attorney and the judge select a trial date for a case. Generally, details of the case are not discussed other than the trial period in which the case is to be tried. However, there are times at Case Management when, should the defendant desire to waive his right to a trial, the judge may accept a PLEA and enter a sentence. Other times, should the defendant wish to enter a PLEA, a future date will be secured on the judge’s calendar and, in this event, every effort will be made by the State Attorney’s Office to notify the victim.

Docket Sounding is the last effort of the judge and the attorneys involved to schedule specific days and times for trials just prior to the beginning of the trial docket. All victims and witnesses will receive a subpoena for a time certain when scheduled.

Pre-Trial hearings and Docket Sounding in misdemeanor court are similar to Case Management and Docket Sounding in felony court with the exception that, generally, the judge will accept a defendant’s plea of “No Contest” or “Guilty” at any of these times. When no such plea is presented, a trial date is set and victims and witnesses are usually notified by subpoena.

The victim has the right to attend any of these public hearings. However, your presence is not necessary nor required, unless subpoenaed or specifically requested by the attorney prosecuting the case. Please contact the assistant state attorney with any questions in regard to your attendance.

Trial Procedure

A jury is selected by the state and defense attorneys and seated as the first item of procedure.

The trial begins with an “opening statement” from the assistant state attorney, hereinafter called “prosecutor” and the defense attorney. The opening statement outlines the facts that each party expects to establish during the trial. The prosecutor presents the state’s case first by calling and questioning witnesses on “direct examination.” After direct examination of each witness, the defendant’s attorney is permitted to question the witness by “cross examination.”

After the state’s presentation, the defense is entitled to present its case by direct examination followed by cross examination of each witness by the prosecutor. Finally, each attorney presents a closing argument which offers a summation of the facts presented during the trial.

The judge then instructs the jury on the law, defines the issues and instructs the jury to reach a fair verdict based on the evidence. The jury’s deliberations are in private and, in order to convict, their verdict must be unanimous. Again, victims and witnesses have the right to be present in the courtroom and may not be excluded during any court hearing or trial unless, upon motion, their presence is determined to be prejudicial by the Judge. This option should be discussed with the prosecutor in the case.

Sentencing

Statewide sentencing guidelines became effective on October 1, 1983. These guidelines provide a range of recommended sentences for all felony cases. The court must sentence according to these guidelines unless the court states a clear and convincing reason why it chooses to sentence outside the guidelines.

The sentencing of misdemeanor offenses remains the discretion of the trial judge. The trial judge in misdemeanor matters may impose any sentence up to the maximum allowed by state law.

As a victim, you have the right to be present at the sentencing of the defendant. Please advise the prosecutor of your desire to be present so you will be notified. At said hearing, you may address the court to state your feelings concerning the impact of this crime on your life, necessary restitution and desired sentencing. Should you choose not to make an oral statement, you may submit a written statement to the prosecutor prior to sentencing to be read into the record.

Restitution

At sentencing, the court may order a defendant to pay restitution for the damage or loss caused by a crime. If the defendant is sentenced to jail or prison, the restitution may not be paid until after the defendant’s release if the incarceration is followed by probation. If ordered as a condition of probation or community control, the appropriate probation officer will supervise the payment of restitution. Therefore, your obligation is to keep current your address with the proper agency. See page 25 for information. If the sentence is solely incarceration, the judge may order restitution as a civil judgement. Information on enforcing said civil lien or judgement may be obtained from the office of the Clerk of Court.

Juvenile Justice Court Proceedings

If the accused is a juvenile and is immediately arrested, the release procedure is somewhat different from adult court. Juveniles charged with misdemeanors and many other nonviolent crimes are frequently immediately released to the custody of their parents or other custodians. Juveniles who are charged with more serious offenses and are not released will attend a detention hearing within 24 hours. At the detention hearing it will be determined if the juvenile is to remain in secure detention or is to be released to a home detention. Detention hearings are conducted seven days a week. Victims are not required to attend these hearings but may do so if they wish (except on weekends).

Arraignment and trial are very similar to adult court. However, the sentencing phase in Juvenile Court is called a “disposition.” The court will request a pre-dispositional report from the Department of Juvenile Justice which makes recommendations for either community control (similar to adult probation) or commitment to a juvenile program or facility. This report may contain statements regarding restitution and the juvenile’s ability to pay. You, the victim, may also be contacted so your input may be made a part of the report.

If the victim or the sibling of the victim attends or is eligible to attend the same school as that of the offender, the parent or legal guardian of the victim has the right to attend the sentencing or disposition of the offender and request that the offender be required to attend a different school.

The Juvenile Division of the State Attorney’s Office will inform you of all crucial court dates. Juvenile records are confidential in Florida which may prohibit you, however, from receiving all the information you request on the case and from revealing information regarding any case heard in juvenile court to any outside party except as is reasonably necessary in pursuit of legal remedies.

The order and amount of restitution is solely a decision of the judge. If restitution amounts are provided and the Court fails to order the defendant to pay, the judge must state for the record, why the payment of restitution is not so ordered.

Testifying

Do not try to memorize what you are going to say before you go into court, but rather, try to picture the scene in your mind.

Review your deposition and any other documents or records in your possession so you can recall more accurately the information when you testify about what you know.

Take your time. Give the question some thought and formulate your answer. Answer the question asked.

Do not volunteer information that has not been asked. If you do not understand the question, ask for an explanation.

Do not give your personal opinion or conclusion unless specifically asked to do so. Give only the facts as you know them. Do not guess.

Try to remain calm, confident and in control. RELAX. You have no need to be nervous.