Overview of Criminal Court Process

posted Jul 4, 2011, 11:26 AM by Ronnie V   [ updated Apr 4, 2013, 9:41 PM ]
Thanks to Dan Scoggins of 2PAC (2nd Precinct Advisory Council) for providing this summary as outlined by Heidi Johnston, 2nd Precinct Community Attorney, at the June 11 meeting as we learned what to expect as we follow cases for Eastside Court Watch. 

Sequence of events:

Perp is arrested on suspicion of committing a crime. 

Arraignment - Police and Prosecutors bring charges
The first step is when the person is charged with a crime. The Police bring the information to the Prosecutor who brings a charge within 48 hours of the arrest or the person who is being charged is released without charges. The person can be charged later, but must be charged and offered bail or released within 48 hours after the initial arrest. 

Omnibus Hearing - Pre-trial hearing
The next step is the Omnibus, pre-trial hearing or pre-trial conference. The County Attorney has a file and reveals the information to be used at the trial. The person enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. Not every case with an arrested person goes to court. Some cases are not brought forward to the Prosecutor’s Office by the Police [due to lack of evidence or other factors], others are not charged by the County Prosecutor’s Office [usually because the evidence available will not hold up in court, lack of witnesses, etc]. The County Prosecutor’s office handles felony level cases, the City Prosecutor’s office handles misdemeanor cases. (The Juvenile court system is a completely different process that we did not talk about.)

Court Watch team members can submit a Community Impact Statement at the Omnibus hearing point. Impact statements are used primarily during the sentencing, but impact statements may also help the Judges and the court to understand the concerns of the community before plea agreements are accepted. Most cases are resolved by plea agreements. In a plea agreement, a person is offered a lesser charge, if they will plead guilty to the lesser charge.

We discussed how to make the most useful impact statement. 2nd Precinct CPS Tom Thompson explained that he prefers quality over quantity. He said that there are two basic types of impact statements. Victim impact statements are written by victims who were directly impacted by the crime. Another type is a general impact statement, written by members of the community. General impact statements show the impact of the crime or the charged person’s lifestyle on our community. A General impact statement may talk about the impact of crime on property values or the fear of people in the community to be out at night when the crime was committed.

[Heidi stated that the majority of cases are determined/resolved at the Omnibus hearing and that very few actually go to trial]
The trial is where the facts of the case are discussed in court. Most cases are heard by judges. Jury trials may be requested by the charged person. A jury of 12 is used in felony cases and a jury of 6 is used for misdemeanor cases. As part of the role of the Jury, certain questions about the crime may be answered that help Judges with the sentencing process to follow.

Judges impose the sentences. Impact statements are most commonly used here. Judges are required by law to read and consider all victim impact statements as part of the sentencing process.

There are four basic kinds of sentencing classes for various violations of state law and city codes:

Petty Misdemeanor – these cases are not crimes. There may be hearings and fines are paid. No jail time is imposed for a petty misdemeanor case.

Misdemeanor – Up to 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine are the maximum sentences.

Gross Misdemeanor – Up to 365 days in jail or $3000 fine.

Felony – 1 year and a day is the minimum penalty.  

[Editor: Heidi also told us that in most cases, the convicted person usually only serves 1/3 of the time sentenced]

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