The Criminal Court Process

The help and cooperation of victims and witnesses are very important to our criminal justice system.  When you report a crime and/or testify, you make our community a safer place to live.  The following information explains the criminal court process.

Possible Outcomes of Prosecution:
There are a number of possible resolutions of a criminal case or charge.  A case may be deferred, resulting in a dismissal of the charge if the person successfully completes a deferred agreement.  Or, a case may proceed to conviction and sentencing.  A person can be sentenced only if convicted.  A person can be convicted only on his/her plea of guilty, or by a finding of guilt after a trial to a judge or jury.

There are a variety of sentencing possibilities.  The range of possibilities is set by law.  However, within that range the judge determines the sentence.  An option the court has in most cases is probation.  Probation may be ordered when a sentence is withheld or stayed.  When probation is ordered, the judge may also order that the probationer comply with certain conditions that may include jail, treatment, no contact with victims, and others.  If the offender violated probation and probation is revoked, the offender is returned to court for sentencing, or a term of imprisonment previously stayed is then imposed.

Other sentencing options available to the court are fines, community service, jail and imprisonment.  As stated earlier, the maximums available to the court for the crime are set by law, but the court determines sentence within that range.

Most convictions are the result of a plea of guilty by the defendant.  Many of these guilty pleas are the product of negotiations between the prosecutor representing the State and the defendant.  Negotiations may result in complete or partial agreement between the parties regarding the final outcome of the case.  This agreement is then presented to the judge for approval.  When all or some of the final outcome is not agreed to by the parties, both sides have the opportunity to present their positions to the judge, who then makes a final sentencing decision.  A person convicted of a crime, even one who enters a plea of guilty, has the right to appeal his or her conviction.  Most persons convicted of crime do not elect to do so, however.  If your case is appealed, information about this process can be made available to you.