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Cassia Home :: Judicial :: Prosecuting Attorney :: Victim Rights The Players of the System

Players of the System

Defendant

The person accused of committing the crime.

Defense Attorney

The constitution 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 defendant.

 

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.

 

Grand Jury

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.

 

Judge

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 the case.

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 jury.


After a felony trial the judge schedules a later time for sentencing. In a misdemeanor case, the judge may sentence the defendant immediately.

 

Offender

An adult who has been convicted of a crime.

 

Police

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 file charges.

 

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 investigation.

 

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.

 

Jury

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 case.

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 for mistrial.

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.

 
 
 
 

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