The Justice Process
A Crime is Committed
The criminal justice process is set into motion when a crime is committed and law enforcement is contacted. As a victim/witness, your role is crucial. You have seen, heard or know something that is important. A law enforcement officer will question you about the identity of the suspect, details of the crime, the location of the crime scene, etc. Your cooperation is necessary, and failure to provide complete information may result in a failed investigation. Each case will proceed differently.
Your case may proceed as follows:
• A criminal complaint is signed and law enforcement must establish probable cause to make an arrest; or
• A criminal complaint is forwarded to the State Attorney's Office for review to determine if probable cause exists. Further investigation may be necessary at this stage.
If an arrest is made and the arrestee has not already bonded out of jail, within 24 hours the court holds a hearing called the "First Appearance Hearing." At this hearing, the judge hears facts and decides whether a bond amount should be set, changed or waived and if so, how much. If the defendant is able to post the bond amount, he/she may be released pending trial. Our Constitution guarantees the right to release on reasonable bail, before conviction. Frequently, the judge will include a special condition ordering the defendant not to have contact with the victim. If you are contacted or harassed be the defendant, you should contact the Police Department immediately. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE PRESENT AT FIRST APPEARANCE, HOWEVER YOUR PRESENCE IS NOT NECESSARY. You can ascertain the time of First Appearance by calling the Volusia County Branch Jail.
Once the State Attorney's or City Prosecutor's Office receives the formal charging complaint from law enforcement, an Assistant State Attorney or City Prosecutor will review the case and, when necessary, interview the victims and witnesses in the case. If the Assistant State Attorney determines that there is sufficient evidence, criminal charges may be filed. The formal charging document is called an "Information." If the Assistant State Attorney determines that the case cannot be prosecuted, he/she will attempt to notify the victim prior to that decision being filed with the court. The paperwork filed with the court stating that the State will not prosecute is known as a "No Information." A State Attorney will decide on felony cases and the City Prosecutor will decide on misdemeanor cases. The felony division can reduce the charge to a misdemeanor.
Following the First Appearance Hearing, if the prosecutor files a charge, the defendant is required to appear in court to state whether he/she is guilty or not guilty. AS A VICTIM, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE PRESENT AT THE ARRAIGNMENT. HOWEVER, YOUR APPEARANCE IS NOT REQUIRED. You can ascertain that hearing date by calling the felony clerks office or by calling the City Prosecutor's Office.
Florida law allows the defense attorney to interview witnesses prior to trial. This interview is called a deposition. You may receive a subpoena from the defendant's attorney requiring you to appear to have your deposition taken. You are not required to talk to the defendant, his or her attorney or a representative of the defendant, such as a private investigator, without a subpoena and the presence of an Assistant State Attorney. If you have questions concerning this matter, please contact your Assistant State Attorney or Victim Advocate.
Prior to trial, the defendant may agree to plead guilty or plea bargain and be sentenced. If you wish to be consulted before the final plea agreement is reached, call the Assistant State Attorney or City Prosecutor assigned to the case.
Notification of Hearing
The State Attorney's Office and the City Prosecutor's Office are responsible for notifying victims, relative of a minor who is a victim, or relative of a homicide victim, at the most current address available, of judicial and post judicial proceedings which are related to the arrest of an accused.
The Pre-Trial Hearing
The pre-trial hearing is held prior to trial week. At this hearing, the defendant is required to appear in court to advise the judge whether or not he/she is ready for trial. The defendant may also enter a plea at this time or request a continuance if he/she is not ready for trial. As a victim, you have the right to be present.
It is not unusual for a case to be continued or postponed. The State Attorney's Office and City Prosecutor will try the case as quickly as possible. However, there are circumstances that cannot be controlled by the prosecutor, which makes a continuance necessary.
In some cases, the defendant will plead guilty before trial. However, the defendant may go to trial and you will be required to testify in court. The State Attorney's or City Prosecutor's Office will notify you concerning the trial schedule. During the trial, you must be very careful not to discuss the case with anyone outside the courtroom, except the lawyers involved.
Close of the Trial
Following presentation of evidence by the Assistant State Attorney and the defendant's attorney, each attorney summarizes their side of the case in the "Closing Arguments." Following Closing Arguments, the jury is sent out of the courtroom to decide whether or not the defendant is guilty. The jury's decision is called the "verdict."
When the judge schedules the sentencing, he usually orders the Department of Corrections to complete a report on the defendant, which includes the defendant's prior criminal history, personal background, etc. The report includes a section for input from the victim of the crime, which provides the court with information regarding restitution for losses, damages and injuries to the victim and his/her recommendations as to the sentence.
In misdemeanor cases, sentencing of the defendant usually occurs immediately after a guilty verdict. In felony cases, a defendant who has been found guilty or has pled guilty is brought back before the judge weeks later at a scheduled hearing called "sentencing."
At sentencing, the court can order the defendant to pay restitution for damages caused by the crime. If you desire restitution, itemize and document your losses, damages and injuries on the Victim Impact Statement provided by the State Attorney's Office.