- The State’s Attorney’s Office determines if there is enough evidence to file criminal charges.
- If criminal charges are filed, the accused may be arrested, or receive a summons, to go to court for an arraignment.
- Arraignment is when the accused (called the defendant) appears before the judge and pleads guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty (uncommon at arraignment), sentencing will be scheduled for a later date. If they plead not guilty, the case will continue through the court process. At this stage, a lawyer is appointed if the Defendant can’t afford one, and the judge will set a bond.
- Two types of hearings occur before trial: a Preliminary Hearing or a Grand Jury Hearing.
The Preliminary Hearing occurs before a judge in open court. The judge reviews the evidence and testimony and decides if there is enough evidence for the case to be tried.
Grand Jury Hearings are held in private before a jury. The defendant and defense attorney do not attend. The Grand Jury reviews the evidence and decides if there is enough evidence for trial.
- The defendant has a defense attorney. They may want to talk to your child or you before the trial date; this is up to you. You do not have to talk to this attorney.
- If there is a Trial, the defense chooses if they want a Bench or Jury Trial. A bench trial is held before a judge, and a jury trial is held before a judge and 12 jurors. You and your child might have to testify. The defendant does not have to testify. It may take several months from the time charges are filed until you go to court. These days can be long. We suggest bringing quiet entertainment for your child.
- Once all evidence and testimony are presented, there will be a verdict of guilty or not guilty and released. If found guilty, the defendant will be sentenced at a later date (Sentencing Hearing). Prior to the Sentencing Hearing, you will be contacted by a Victim Witness Advocate requesting a Victim Impact Statement. This can be completed by you, your child, or both of you; we can help you with this. This will be read by the judge before sentencing, and you will have the opportunity to read the statement in court if you choose. The State’s Attorney’s Office can also help you prepare this statement.
- The case can also be settled by agreement. This is called a Plea Bargain. A plea bargain occurs between the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney and is reached when the attorneys agree on a charge and a sentence. If the judge accepts the plea bargain, there will not be a trial.
Always remember, the legal system is one step in the process, don’t lose yourself in it. We suggest engaging the legal system without expectations, as the more expectation, the harder the experience tends to be. Regardless of the outcome, tell your child when it’s over. You were both brave and worked hard. Take time to celebrate.