Players of the System
The person accused of
committing the crime.
guarantees a person charged in any state or federal court
the assistance of council before he or she can be validly
convicted and punished. A person accused of a crime who
cannot afford a lawyer is entitled under the constitution to
have a lawyer provided at trial and at appeal. The lawyer
must zealously advocate whatever is in the best interest of
the client, not the interest of the prosecutor, judge,
society, or victim.
State and federal courts have established rules of
evidence, rules of procedure, and principles of
constitutional law. The defense attorney’s main duty is to
make sure that the prosecution and court follow the rules.
The defense attorney ensures that the defendant’s legal
rights are not violated.
You may feel shock and anger at the strategies the
defense attorney uses. You may hear unpleasant or untrue
things about you or about people close to you.
Cross-examination by a defense attorney can be unnerving and
upsetting. Try to stay calm and answer questions as simple
and honestly as you can. The assistance of a victim support
group can be very helpful at trial.
It is important in our system of government to have a
competent and thorough defense attorney representing the
A good defense attorney decreases the chance of judicial
or trial error and therefore decreases the chance that the
court will overturn the conviction on appeal.
A defense attorney or a defense investigator may want to
speak with you before the trial. It is advisable to speak
with the prosecutor before providing any information to the
defense attorney or defense investigator.
A Grand Jury may consider the case. The Grand Jury is
made up of citizens who hear and review the prosecutor’s
evidence against the accused person in a closed hearing.
This process may occur either before or after an arrest is
made. If the Grand Jury finds sufficient evidence to take
the case to trial, it will issue an indictment. Police
officers, victims and witnesses appear by subpoena (court
order). They give testimony that usually does not become
part of public record, there are no exceptions. No one is
permitted to observe grand jury proceedings, although if you
receive a subpoena to testify, you must go.
The judge has many functions in the criminal justice
system. First, he or she must make impartial decisions. A
judge cannot take sides in a criminal case and must treat
both the defendant and the state fairly. The judge cannot
have any personal contact with the victim or members of the
victim’s family while the case is pending. The judge cannot
have exparte (one-sided) contact with any of the attorneys,
witness, jurors, or other people involved in the case.
A judge decides what evidence can be admitted in the
case, using case law, rules of evidence and rules of
procedures. The judge also must manage the timing of the
case by setting deadlines and requiring the prosecution and
defense to meet these deadlines.
Victims or their families want the case resolved as soon
as possible so that they can go on with their lives.
However, they must remember that many things can slow down
A judge or jury may try a case and decide guilt. At a
trial, the prosecution first present evidence and testimony.
The defense then may present testimony and evidence on
behalf of the defendant. The defendant is never required to
testify, but may do so if he or she chooses.
After hearing all the evidence, the judge or jury
deliberates and reaches a decision. A jury’s decision in a
criminal case must be unanimous. If a jury cannot reach a
decision, the judge may set a new trial before a different
After a felony trial the judge schedules a later time for
sentencing. In a misdemeanor case, the judge may sentence
the defendant immediately.
An adult who has been convicted of a crime.
When a crime occurs, usually the first person to respond
is a law enforcement officer who investigates the offense.
The officer in charge may gather physical evidence,
question witnesses, photograph or video the scene, and
collect as much information as possible. If police find
enough evidence to show that a specific person committed the
offense, they may file criminal charges against that person
or refer the case to the county or municipal prosecutor.
Police officers may or may not arrest a defendant when they
Once you report a crime to the police, you should
understand that the case can go forward even without your
consent or cooperation. In cases of domestic violence and
child abuse in particular, victims or parents of victims
sometimes change their minds about wanting to see the
offender prosecuted. However, these are serious offenses,
and the prosecutor may take the case to trial anyway. A
victim advocate can help you sort through your feelings
about the issue.
If you are questioned by police, you should talk as
honestly and openly about your relationship with the
defendant as possible. If you are a survivor of a homicide
victim, you also must give open and honest answers about the
victim. Withholding background information can hinder the
You may add information to your statement as you remember
things more clearly. Tell the police about any items of
evidence that may be helpful to the case.
The police officer must remain objective in their
investigation and look at all possibilities.
You should understand the police have an obligation to
the community. They must collect the information and
evidence to be used in court. The police must ask you
questions that are insensitive, calloused or ever abrasive
to your feelings; do not take it personally. Also you may
want more information from the police and the prosecutor
than they can give. The investigative phase of a crime can
be very hard on victims and survivors. This is a good times
to call a victim support group for assistance.
Often the police cannot give the victim much information
until they question or arrest a suspect. The police may keep
certain information about the crime private, in order to
confront a suspect who knows details of the crime only the
perpetrator could know.
A jury is a panel of citizens randomly selected from the
community. Before selecting jurors in a criminal case, the
judge or attorneys question the potential jurors. The
questioning helps choose fair and impartial jury members.
For example, a jury member should not have any special
knowledge of the offense or be related to any party in the
The jury decides if the prosecution has proven the
defendant guilty, based on the evidence presented in court.
Jurors usually do not hear information about the character
of the defendant or the victim, to assure that they decide
the case based on the current offense and not on feelings
about a person’s past behavior or character. Sometimes you
may feel frustrated about facts that judge will and will not
allow the jury to hear.
If you decide to watch a trial, you need to understand
that you cannot attempt to influence the jury in any way.
Some of the evidence and testimony may be very painful to
hear, but reacting in any way could be considered grounds
Jury members may feel sympathy for victims, and an
outward display of emotions could affect their ability to
remain fair and impartial. Also be careful about
conversations in hallways, elevators, restrooms, or even
restaurants near the courthouse.