Explanation of the Court Process
When a Crime is reported there may or may not be an arrest. An arrest is made when there is sufficent evidence to establish probable cause.
After an arrest is made, the judge sets bail based on whether or not the judge feels the defendant will show up in court on the scheduled day.
Once bail is decided, a Felony/Preliminary Hearing is held. If the defendant is in jail, the proceeding must be held within 120-144 hours of the arrest. This does not guarantee that the defendant will remain in jail. The judge at this hearing decides whether or not to hold the defendant for a grand jury.
If the judge decides on a Grand Jury, or there are no arrests, a grand jury listens to testimony to determine whether reasonable cause to belive the defendant committed the crime. No judge, defendant or defense attorney are present. Only the DA questions the witnessess.
The Grand Jury can result in "no bill" – when there was not enough evidence to prove to the Grand Jury that a crime was committed, or it can be returned to a lower court and tried as a misdemeanor.
If the judge does not decide to hold the defendant for a Grand Jury, there can be an indictment where the defendant is formally charged with a felony. If no prior charge was filed, the defendant is arrested.
The next step is a Superior Court arraignment where bail is set, or reset if the defendant has already been arrested.
At this point the Assitant District Attorney can offer a plea to a charge which may reduce the charge and prevent the need for a trial. The defendant, judge, and the District Attorney all must agree to a plea if one is to be made. The Assistant District Attorney will discuss a plea with the victim before it is offered to the defendant. At this time, the Assistant District Attorney will explain the benefits and drawbacks to the plea.
If there is no plea agreement, then the case will go to trial where the Assistant District Attorney has to prove to the judge/jury that the defendant has committed the crime for which he/she was indicted, beyond a reasonable doubt. The result of a trial could be an acquittal, a conviction, or a hung jury.
A hung jury is when the jury is unable to agree on a verdict. It is possible that a plea could follow a hung jury and/or a retrial.
The jury can decide on an acquittal if there was not enough evidence to prove the defendant's guilt, or there was reasonable doubt of guilt.
If a conviction is made or the defendant pleads guilty, the victim can write a letter to the judge called a victim impact statement and express his or her feelings about the crime, and impact. The victim also will be contacted by the probation department during the presentence investigation. The PSI is forwarded to the judge to assist in the sentencing decision.
During the sentencing the judge decides on the consequences for the defendant. The victim may attend the sentencing and/or speak if he/she wishes to. The family may speak at the judge's discretion. If the denfendant is sentenced to a state prison term, the family will be notified about parole if they wish.