Steps in the Process
DETENTION HEARING (Possible): A hearing to determine the custody status of the defendant. The Court will make a custody determination based on statements from the prosecutor, defense attorney, and/or subpoenaed witnesses and exhibits. Defendants on release pending trial are typically supervised by a Pretrial Release Officer.
PRELIMINARY HEARING or GRAND JURY HEARING: In a preliminary hearing, a Judge determines if there is sufficient probable cause to charge the defendant for the alleged offense. The Government may call witnesses to testify. This hearing only occurs if the defendant has not been charged by the Grand Jury. Alternatively, a Grand Jury hears evidence in a non-public proceeding and may issue formal charges via an Indictment. An Arrest Warrant may be issued at this time in which case, a detention hearing may occur (see above).
ARRAIGNMENT: A defendant appears in court and hears the charge(s) against him/her. At this time, the defendant typically enters a plea of not guilty and a trial date is set by the Court.
DISCOVERY, PLEA NEGOTIATIONS & MOTIONS: This may include hearings & rulings on motions concerning the admissibility of evidence, trial issues, or a possible guilty plea from the defendant.
TRIAL or GUILTY PLEA: In a trial, the Government presents its case with witnesses, followed by the defendant’s case. The trial generally results in a verdict by a jury. Alternatively, the defendant may enter into a plea agreement with the Government and change his/her plea to guilty rather than proceeding to a trial. In most cases, you have the right to make a statement to the Court at a public hearing involving the defendant’s plea.
PRE-SENTENCE REPORT PREPARED: After a finding of guilt, a pre-sentence report is prepared for the judge by U.S. Probation, at which time you have the right to submit a written victim impact statement.
SENTENCE: The defendant is sentenced by the Court. In most cases, you have the right to make a statement to the Court at a public hearing involving the defendant’s sentencing.
ACQUITTAL: Legal judgment that a criminal defendant has not been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
ARRAIGNMENT: A proceeding in which the criminal defendant is called into court to have the indictment read to him/her and to enter a plea.
CONCURRENT SENTENCE: Sentences for more than one crime in which the time of each is to be served at the same time, meaning that all time served is credited to all sentences.
CONSECUTIVE SENTENCE: Sentences for more than one crime in which the time of each is to be served successively, meaning that time served for each sentence is served one after another.
CONTINUANCE: When court hearings cannot take place as scheduled, the hearing date is changed to a future date. This is a very common occurrence in the criminal justice system.
CONVICTION: Legal judgment that a criminal defendant has been proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
DEFENDANT: The person against whom the indictment has been filed.
DEPOSITION: An oral statement, made under oath by a witness. Counsel for the case have an opportunity to question witnesses to discover what each witness knows and will testify to at trial. The deposition may be used later in the trial.
EVIDENCE: Any kind of matter, presented at trial through witnesses, records, or documents for the purpose of persuading the court or jury of the correctness of the contentions of the parties involved.
GRAND JURY: Made up of persons who hear the government’s evidence against a person who is suspected of committing a crime to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring that person to trial.
INDICTMENT: The formal charging of the defendant with a particular crime by a grand jury.
INFORMATION: The formal accusation charging the defendant with a particular crime but brought by the U.S. Attorney, rather than by the grand jury.
JUDGMENT: The official and authentic decision of a Court adjudicating with finality the respective rights and claims of the parties in a law suit.
OVERRULED: A decision by the judge in response to an attorney’s objection to a question of a witness or admission of evidence. By overruling the objection, the judge allows the question or evidence.
PERJURY: Deliberate false testimony under oath. Under current Federal Law, perjury carries a penalty of up to 5 years.
PLAINTIFF: The one who brings the suit, asking for the enforcement of a right or the recovery of relief from wrong.
PLEA: A defendant’s official statement of “guilty” or “not guilty” to the charges made against him/her.
REASONABLE DOUBT: The idea that the evidence is a criminal trial must show that the defendant is guilty to the point that the jury is convinced and morally certain that the defendant did commit the crime.
RESTITUTION: Payments by offenders to victims as redress for the damage done in committing a crime.
SENTENCE: Sanction formally pronounced by a judge upon a defendant after his/her conviction.
SUBPOENA: A court order directing a witness to appear in court and give testimony. Failure to honor a subpoena constitutes contempt of court.
SUPPRESS: To put a stop to a thing actually existing; a motion to suppress evidence or a confession asks the Court not to allow the use of such evidence or confession in the case.
SUSTAINED: A decision by the judge in response to an attorney’s objection to a question of a witness or admission of evidence. By sustaining the objection, the judge has determined the question or evidence is improper and therefore not allowed.
VENUE: The geographical location in which a case is tried.
VERDICT: The formal decision or finding made by the jury upon the matter submitted to them at the trial.
VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT: A statement from the victim to be given to the sentencing judge. Items in the statement should include the impact of the crime on the victim emotionally, physically and financially.