The following is a brief description of each step you may encounter in the judicial process as a victim of a serious crime. Because your situation is unique, the way in which your case is handled may be slightly different than what is described. Juvenile cases, especially, may vary.
Once an arrest is made for a serious (felony) crime, a preliminary hearing is scheduled. Here a judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence to have the defendant stand trial later in Circuit Court. The victim and any witnesses are required to attend this hearing. You may be asked to testify.
A grand jury reviews the evidence and determines if there is enough evidence to issue an indictment (formal charge against the accused). This is not a public hearing, and you will not appear before the grand jury.
Once an indictment has been handed down, the accused may choose to plead guilty and forgo a trial. If the accused pleads not guilty, he/she proceeds to trial. You may have to testify under oath at the trial. After all evidence is presented, the jury (or judge in some cases) will decide if the defendant (accused) is guilty.
The judge will set a sentencing date and will impose a sentence upon the accused at that time. You are not required to attend the sentencing, but may do so if you wish.
DURING THE PROCEEDINGS FOR YOUR CASE:
You are not required, nor is it always in the best interest of your case, to talk to the defense attorney who represents the accused, unless otherwise advised by the Commonwealth’s Attorney (prosecutor) handling your case.
You are encouraged not to speak with the media without first consulting with the Commonwealth’s Attorney or the victim advocate handling your case.
You should not sign anything without first consulting with the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
You should receive a subpoena informing you of the trial date.
If you change your address or telephone number, inform the detective/officer and Victim Witness Assistance Program.
After the trial and prior to sentencing, you will be asked to prepare a victim impact statement for the court.
TIPS FOR TESTIFYING
- Dress well and be courteous.
Recall the incident.
Think before you speak.
Speak loudly and clearly.
Never lose your temper.
If you cannot remember something and do not understand what someone says, say so.
If you do not know the answer to a question, say you don’t know.
Show respect toward the judge and attorneys.
IF YOUR CHILD IS A WITNESS: tips on how to help him or her prepare
Reassure your child.
Relax – help your child relax the night before with his or her favorite activity or meal.
Waiting time – there can be lengthy amounts of time before your child is called to testify, bring activities to keep busy.
PREPARING FOR COURT
Arrange for child care ahead of time.
Dress conservatively (shorts and t-shirts are not appropriate).
Try to recall what you witnessed.
Court hearings may last longer than expected; bring books or magazines to occupy your time.