The following contains some pertinent information that might be of help to you as you become involved in the criminal justice system as a victim or witness.
Apprehension and Arrest of the Accused
There are three basic routes a case can take in order to be brought to court:
1. Arrest of the accused at the scene of the crime;
2. Arrest based on a warrant issued by the court in response to a sworn complaint;
3. Arrest based on indictment by a Grand Jury as the result of its investigation.
In all three instances, the evidence available must show that there is "probable cause" to believe that a crime was committed and that the person to be charged took part in committing the crime.
What is a complaint?
A complaint is a statement of facts about an alleged crime which, when filed in court formally charges a person. Facts about a crime are submitted to the County Prosecutor's Office by a local law enforcement agency. Upon review, if the evidence is deemed sufficient for prosecution, a complaint is filed in the court.
This is the initial stage in the prosecution of a criminal matter. If there is not enough information at this time, no complaint is filed.
What is a Warrant of Arrest?
A warrant of arrest is an order signed by a judge, authorizing the police to arrest a person believed to have committed a serious crime.
Case Review and Filing of Charges by the Prosecutor
Following the arrest of the accused by the Police, the case is presented to the prosecutor. The prosecutor, as the people's representative in our system of criminal justice, has the sole responsibility for determining whether or not charges will be presented to the Grand Jury. The initial processing of the case by the prosecutor is often referred to as "screening". At this stage the case is discussed with police, evidence is reviewed and witnesses are interviewed.
The prosecutor then decides whether to do one or more of the following:
1. Charge the accused with the same charge or charges made by the police or used in issuing the arrest warrant.
2. Increase a given charge to a more serious charge, reduce the charge, or add new charges.
The accused is often charged with more than one criminal offense so the filing of charges with the court can be complex legal procedure. The prosecutor must consider all applicable laws, as well as the decisions of the State and Federal Courts.
If the prosecutor determines there is not sufficient evidence or there is no legal basis for charging the accused with a crime, the case is closed and the accused released.
What Happens to the Accused?
The person accused of the crime is now called the defendant. The defendant will make his/her first appearance before a judge soon after the arrest. The appearance is for the purpose of reviewing the amount set for bail, furnishing the defendant with a copy of the complaint, confirming legal counsel, and setting a date for hearing.
What is the Purpose of Bail?
Bail is set by the court, not by the prosecutor. It is used to assure a defendant's appearance in court. The primary factor considered by the court is whether the defendant is likely to appear for trial. Within that context the court will also take into consideration the defendant's background and the seriousness of the offense charged.
Why Would a Case Get Dismissed?
There are a number of reasons why a criminal case may be dismissed or dropped by the prosecutor or the court before trial. For example, the prosecution may decide probable cause has not been established or the defendant may make full restitution or compensation for property loss. The case may also have to be dismissed because of some technical failure of the evidence, or because the defendant cannot be found or is considered incompetent to stand trial. None of the reasons means that the witness are unimportant or unnecessary, or that their willingness to testify is not appreciated. The presence and willingness of witnesses to testify may be the deciding factor in determining what will be done in the case, particularly in getting the accused to plead guilty.
What If Someone Threatens a Witness To Drop the Charges?
Such a person is obstructing justice and may be committing a crime. Call the law enforcement officer in charge of the case. Police can ask the judge to issue a new warrant, or to revoke the defendant's bail.
What If The Defense Attorney Contacts a Witness About The Case?
You may be asked by the defense attorney to talk to him/her about the case. The witness may refuse or can talk. It is the decision of a witness.
Pleas Of Guilty
The defendant in the case may decide to plead guilty. The plea may only come at the last moment before trial, of