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The Criminal Legal System

The criminal legal system is designed to punish the wrongdoer. This is a process that involves multiple steps that can take up to a year or more to complete.

Reporting: A police report is made or child/adult protective services report is made. Reports to police are reviewed by detectives. Sometimes they will want more information, other times they will conclude there is enough information. On both occasions they may want to interview the victim. Depending on what the interview reveals, a warrant for the suspect's arrest may be issued or not.

Interview with Victim: An interview with a victim may happen more quickly if perpetrator is in custody. The type of interview may be based upon county protocols such as Child Sexual Abuse Investigation. Victims ages 4-9 may be interviewed by interviewer at prosecutor's office or local child advocacy center, often observed by detective and CPS worker. Victims ages 10-11 may be jointly interviewed with prosecutor and detective at prosecutor's office or local child advocacy center. Victims age 12 or older may be interviewed at the detective's discretion, generally just with a detective.

Arrest of Suspect: Arrest and continued in-custody status is determined by the seriousness of the crime, need to protect the community and flight risk of alleged perpetrator. Arrest and release may occur and formal charges may come later.

Charges Filed: For most crimes, except homicide, the prosecutor generally has a time limit for which a crime may be formally filed with the court. This is known as the statute of limitations. For crimes of sexual assault, the statute of limitations may vary. This needs to be determined by the prosecutor. However, in most cases, if the prosecutor is going to issue formal charges against an alleged perpetrator it is likely to occur within three to six months depending on the pace of the detective's investigation. Sometimes the prosecutor cannot locate the defendant but will formally file charges against them in order to preserve the ability to prosecute the case at a later date. This is not uncommon when DNA evidence is available but the prosecutor has not yet identified to whom the DNA belongs. If the victim is a child, some prosecutors may wait until a medical assessment has been conducted. If the victim is an adult, prosecutors are likely to wait until results of a forensic exam are returned. This could be three to six months depending on the crime lab backlog.

Arraignment: Formal court proceeding where charges are entered against the defendant and the defendant pleads either guilty or not guilty. This is generally when an attorney will be appointed to the defendant if they cannot afford one themself.

Case Setting Hearing/Omnibus Hearing: Attorneys and judge meet to discuss logistics of the case. For example, they exchange general case information, determine what information needs to be exchanged, what evidentiary issues need to be decided, and exchange potential witness lists, etc. Results may be: setting the case for trial, the defendant pleading guilty, or the case is to be continued to further complete discovery and/or negotiate a plea agreement. A case readiness hearing generally occurs about three weeks before trial date. Attorneys and judges meet to discuss whether parties are prepared for trial on the date set or if they need more time.

Trial: If the defendant is in custody, a trial must occur within sixty days; if out of custody, trial must occur within ninety days, unless the defendant waives their right to a speedy trial. Defendants often waive their right to a speedy trial to give their attorney more time to prepare for their case. In felony rape cases it is not uncommon for the trial date to be a year after the initial assault occurred. Witnesses are only required to be present when testifying.

Sentencing: The defendant's punishment is formally presented based on their criminal conviction. The victim may attend and submit and/or present a statement about the impact of the crime.

A pre-sentence investigation report (PSI) is prepared in all sex crimes, thus it is likely that sentencing will not occur for at least eight weeks after the trial to allow for the PSI to be drafted.

At each stage of the criminal justice process, victims have rights afforded by state law.


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Reviewed: December 6th, 2016