Criminal Justice Process
Law Enforcement makes an arrest based upon the witnesses’ information.
After an arrest most assailants are entitled to bond. As a victim you are a
witness. When you hear that someone is “out on bail or bond” it means he has
paid a certain amount of money or agreed to certain conditions for his release.
These conditions or money are to make sure he will show up for Court. Part of
the conditions may be that the defendant is not to have any contact with the
victim except through the Attorneys. If you would like to have input or be
notified about the accused’s bond hearing, let the Assistant State Attorney or
Victim Assistance Program know.
If an arrest is made, within 24 hours the Court holds a hearing call the "First
Appearance Hearing." At this hearing the judge hears facts and decides whether a
bond amount should be set and if so, how much. If the defendant is able to post
the bond amount, he or she may be released pending trial. Our Constitution
guarantees the right to release on reasonable bond, 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 by the
Defendant, you should contact the State Attorney's Office immediately. YOU HAVE
THE RIGHT TO BE PRESENT AT THE FIRST APPEARANCE. HOWEVER, YOUR PRESENCE IS NOT
STATE ATTORNEY HEARING
State Attorney Hearing takes place at the State Attorney’s Office. The meeting
is informal but extremely important in the progress of the case. The
accused is not present, nor is his lawyer. The Assistant State Attorney
assigned to handle the case meets with all the witnesses to determine what can
be proven in court. If there is enough evidence the Assistant State
Attorney will tell you which crimes the accused will be prosecuted for.
These charges must be filed with the Court by 21 days after the arrest. At
this meeting the Assistant State Attorney will ask you for your input. The
Assistant State Attorney will pursue a prompt and timely disposition of the case
in order to minimize the stress for you.
Once the Assistant State Attorney has reviewed the case, and when
necessary and interviewed (taken testimony from) 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
"Information." If the Assistant State Attorney determines that the case cannot
be prosecuted, he or 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 Bill."
Approximately two (2) weeks after the charges are
filed, the defendant goes to court and enters a plea of “guilty” or “not
guilty”. Usually a “not guilty” plea is entered in order to give the
defense attorney time to learn about the case. The Judge also sets the
case for trial at the Arraignment. You will receive a subpoena telling you
of the trial date and time. On the subpoena there is a phone number for
you to call. It is very important for you to call because your case may be
continued for some reason or resolved without having to have a trial and this
call could save you a trip. AS A VICTIM YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE PRESENT AT THE
ARRAIGNMENT. HOWEVER, YOUR PRESENCE IS NOT REQUIRED.
This is the way the defense
attorney learns about the case. The defense attorney has the right to
talk with all the witnesses. He sends all the witnesses a subpoena.
The subpoenas are usually brought to you in person. Read the paper
carefully. It will tell you exactly where to go and when to be there.
Normally an Assistant State Attorney will be with you when you talk with the
defense attorney. When you arrive at the deposition you have the right
to ask the defense attorney to call an Assistant State Attorney to come if
one is not there already. However, if the Assistant State Attorney is
unable to attend, the defense attorney has the right to take the deposition
anyway. The statement you give will be recorded by a court reporter in
person or on a tape recorder. The attorney will explain this to you at the
deposition. You may have a Victim Advocate with you during the deposition
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
will be sworn in prior to your deposition being taken, and it will be taken
before an official court reporter, the Defense Attorney, and an Assistant State
Attorney. THE DEFENDANT WILL NOT BE PRESENT. AS A VICTIM YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO
HAVE A VICTIM ADVOCATE ACCOMPANY YOU TO THE DEPOSITION IF YOU SO DESIRE.
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 ANY
QUESTIONS CONCERNING THIS MATTER, PLEASE CONTACT THE ASSISTANT STATE ATTORNEY OR
After the defense attorney talks with all the
witnesses, he and the Assistant State Attorney may talk about the defendant
changing his plea to “guilty”. If this happens you will be notified by
letter. When you get this letter it will include a number for you to call
if you have any questions. Many cases are settled without witnesses having to go
The status conference hearing is held prior to trial. At this hearing, the
Defendant is required to appear in Court to advise the Judge whether or not he
or she is ready for trial. The Defendant may also announce that he or she wishes
to enter a plea. Finally, the Defendant may request a continuance if he or she
is not ready for trial. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE PRESENT AT THE STATUS
CONFERENCE. HOWEVER, YOUR PRESENCE IS NOT REQUIRED.
PRETRIAL CONFERENCE HEARING
The pretrial conference hearing is held one or two weeks prior to trial. The
Defendant is required to appear in Court and the Court will schedule the trial
for a specific date and time. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE PRESENT AT THE PRETRIAL
CONFERENCE HEARING. HOWEVER, YOUR PRESENCE IS NOT REQUIRED.
It is not unusual for a case to be continued or postponed. The State Attorney's
Office will try the case as quickly as possible. However, there are often
circumstances that cannot be controlled by the Assistant State Attorney which
make a continuance necessary.
IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT THAT YOU CONTACT THE WITNESS COORDINATION
OFFICE OR THE STATE ATTORNEY'S OFFICE UPON RECEIVING A SUBPOENA. THEY NEED TO
HAVE CURRENT TELEPHONE NUMBERS AND ADDRESSES TO NOTIFY YOU OF A CONTINUANCE OR A
CANCELLATION OF TRIAL. YOU NEED NOT COME TO COURT FOR A CONTINUANCE.
If the defendant does not
decide to enter a guilty plea, he is entitled to a trial. This is when you
will be needed to testify in Court. This trial normally will be
within 175 days of the arrest, (this is sometimes referred to as a “speedy
trial”), but it may be continued by the Judge. There are many rules and
legal procedures involved in a trial. If you are needed to testify there
will be a Victim Advocate to help explain things to you. The Assistant
State Attorney and the Victim Advocate will be glad to show you the court room
before you have to testify. The Victim Advocate can help you with
transportation or perhaps explain to your employer why you have to be in court.
Try not to worry about trial until you know for sure that it is necessary for
you to testify.
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 or she sometimes 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 the victim's recommendations as to the sentence. The victim
has the right to request that the Assistant State Attorney permit the victim to
review a copy of the Pre-sentence Investigation Report prior to the sentencing
hearing if one was completed.
Once the defendant either enters a plea or is
found guilty by a jury, the Judge sets a time to sentence him. The
Department of Corrections may complete a PreSentence
Investigation for the Judge. You have the right to read the
nonconfidential part of this PSI. You will be notified in writing of
the sentencing date. This letter will explain that you have the right
to be present and speak to the Judge, or you can write the Judge a
letter, or you can let the Assistant State Attorney speak on your
behalf. This Victim Impact Statement can explain the effect the crime
had on you and your family and also give specific amounts of requested
restitution. After the defendant is sentenced you will be notified by
letter of the specific sentence he received.
There are several possible sentences. Some
of them are:
County Jail Time: Confinement
in the County Jail for a time of one year or less.
State Department of Corrections:
Usually referred to as “Prison”, amount of time determined by Judge and
exceeds one year.
Community Control: Usually
referred to as “House Arrest” or “Prison at Home” where defendant is allowed to
remain in community and work, but must be at home during non-working hours.
This is strictly enforced.
Probation: Defendant is allowed
to remain in community and move freely under supervision of Parole and Probation
Department. Many times there are special conditions as part of the
probation which may include restitution (where appropriate) or drug/alcohol
You are eligible for witness fees whenever you
are required to attend. Ask the attorney who subpoenaed you to
tell you how to receive this witness fee, or call the Victim Assistance
Program to help you obtain the fee.