A Guide to the Criminal Justice System for Victims and Witnesses
Stages of the Criminal Justice System
As a defendant (the person who is accused of committing the crime) is arrested, the case is referred to the State Attorney's Office. The following information is provided to help you understand what to expect from the system and what the system expects from you.
Within 24 hours of the defendant's arrest, a first appearance is held. The Judge decides whether a bond should be set and if so, how much. If the defendant is able to post bond, they will be released pending trial. The Judge may include a special condition ordering the defendant not to have contact with the victim
If you are contacted or harassed by the defendant, you should immediately contact your local law enforcement agency and the State Attorney's Office.
An Assistant State Attorney will review the case and when necessary, interview the victims and witnesses. If there is sufficient evidence, criminal charges will be filed. The formal charging document is called an Information.
If it is determined that the case cannot be prosecuted, the Assistant State Attorney will attempt to notify the victim before filing a No Action document with the court.
At this Court hearing, the Assistant State Attorney files the Information (formal criminal charges) with the Court. The defendant will enter plea of guilty or not guilty. While some defendants do plead guilty at theArraignment, most will enter a not guilty plea and a trial date will be set.
A Subpoena is a court order requiring a victim or witness to appear and give testimony.
You must contact the office that has subpoenaed you to confirm the date and time. Please be sure to call one business day before your scheduled appearance in order to avoid unnecessary travel.
Florida law allows the defense attorney to interview victims and witnesses, under oath, prior to trial. This interview is called a deposition. You may receive a subpoena from the defendant's attorney requiring you to appear to have your deposition taken.
Although you are not required to talk to the defendant's attorney without having been served a subpoena, you may do so. If you are unsure of your obligation, you are entitled to discuss this matter with the Assistant State Attorney assigned to your case prior to making this decision.
There are times when it may be necessary for the Assistant State Attorney to drop the charges prior to the defendant pleading guilty or the case coming to trial. This is called a Nolle Prosse. There are a number of reasons why this may happen including a lack of evidence or the defendant's plea of guilty in another case.
The victim will be informed as soon as possible by the Assistant State Attorney to explain the reason(s) and/or to answer any questions.
In many cases the defendant will plead guilty to all or some of the charges prior to the trial date. The plea maybe the result of discussions, or Negotiations, between the Assistant State Attorney and the defense attorney.
Prior to agreeing to any plea, the Assistant State Attorney will attempt to contact the victim to discuss the plea and answer any questions. It is important to remember that this contact can only be made if the State Attorney's Office is kept advised of your current address and phone number (home and work).
You, as the victim, may offer your opinion as to the plea or sentence you feel should be imposed. You may convey your thoughts by filing a victim impact statement or business impact statement with our office or by talking to the Assistant State Attorney assigned to your case. Please advise us of your thoughts as early in the case as possible.
A lawyer for either side of the case may ask the Judge to make a legal decision about the case prior to trial. This is done by the lawyer submitting a Motion to the Court. In some cases it may be necessary for you to testify at a motion hearing in which case you will be subpoenaed.
The pre-trial hearing is held prior to trial week. At the hearing, the defense is required to appear in court to advise the Judge whether or not they are ready for trial. The defendant may also enter a plea at this time or request a continuance if they are not ready for trial.
It is not unusual for a case to be continued (postponed) one or more times before it goes to trial. While every attempt is made to bring a case to trial as quickly as possible, there are circumstances that we cannot control that may make it necessary to continue a case from one trial date to another.
If the defendant pleads not guilty, a trial may be held. The victim is usually the State's most important witness and along with other witnesses will be subpoenaed for trial. Your testimony may be necessary even if you have given a previous statement or deposition in the case. The rules of Court are such that these statements cannot be substituted for live testimony.
In most cases, the Assistant State Attorney will want to meet with you prior to the time you testify to review the questions that they may ask you. Please make sure to ask any questions you may have about your testimony at that time.
Every effort will be made to avoid having you wait too long to testify once you arrive at the Courthouse. Sometimes circumstances make this impossible and you may have to wait. We suggest that you bring a book or some other item to occupy your time. Be sure to dress appropriately.
During the trial you must be very careful not to discuss the case with anyone outside the courtroom.
In misdemeanor cases, sentencing of the defendant usually occurs immediately after a guilty plea or a finding of guilt by the jury after a trial. In felony cases, a defendant who has pled guilty or has been found guilty after a trial may be sentenced at a later date. The victim will be advised of the sentencing date.
At sentencing, the Court can order the defendant to make restitution (pay for the victim's losses caused by the crime). If you are seeking restitution, you must itemize and document your losses, damages and injuries on the Victim Impact Statement provided by the State Attorney's Office. Please attach bills, receipts, and estimates to support your claim. These documents must be given to the State Attorney's Office prior to sentencing.
Types of Sentences
Special conditions of community control and probation may include restitution, drug/alcohol treatment, mental health counseling and community service (a public service assignment to aid the community).
If the Court has ordered restitution and the defendant is sentenced to probation or community control, payment of restitution will be monitored by the probation department assigned to the defendant's case.
Other Important Information
There are laws designed to protect you as a victim or state witness. If you are intimidated, harassed or threatened in any way regarding your participation in the case, immediately call your local law enforcement agency and the State Attorney's Office.
A person may become a victim or witness of a crime while visiting Monroe County; or may move from the area after the crime is committed. It is important for you to remember that even though you may no longer be in Monroe County, your cooperation is still very important to the prosecution of the case.
If you are subpoenaed for trial, your travel and lodging will be arranged and provided at no cost to you. The Victim Witness Counselor assigned to your case will assist you with all travel arrangements.
Return of Property
If some of your property was stolen as a part of the crime it may be necessary to hold it until the case goes to trial. In some cases it may be possible to use a photograph of your property in Court. Once the case is closed, any property that is held can be returned to its owner. If you need assistance in the return of your property, please contact the State Attorney's office.
If your child is not a witness in the case, please make other arrangements while you attend Court. Unfortunately, there are not child care facilities available at the Courthouse.
You must let the Assistant State Attorney and Victim Witness Counselor know as soon as you change your address or telephone number (both home or work). If you do not, we will be unable to advise you about your case.
Tips about Testifying
A trial is a serious matter, please act appropriately and dress neatly for Court.
Always remember to tell the truth and remain calm. Do not be concerned about whether or not your answer will help or hurt your case. It is alright to say "I don't remember," or "I don't understand the question."
If you are asked by the defense attorney whether you have talked with the Assistant State Attorney or anyone else about the case, as in every other situation, tell the truth. It is perfectly all right to talk to the Assistant State Attorney about your case before trial.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, PLEASE CALL THE VICTIM WITNESS COORDINATOR ASSIGNED TO YOUR CASE.