A criminal case begins in court when the District Attorney's office files a criminal complaint or information with the Court. If the charges are felony charges, the Grand Jury needs to hear the evidence in the case, and decide if the case should proceed as a felony case.
The Grand Jury is a group of seven citizens, chosen at random by the Court. They listen to witnesses presented to them by the District Attorney. The defendant is not present. The defense attorney is not present. The Grand Jury then deliberates and decides what charges should be brought against the defendant.
At arraignment, the defendant appears before the Judge, who explains to the defendant what charges have been filed, and what rights the defendant has in Court. If the defendant is indigent, the Judge will appoint an attorney to represent the defendant. The Court may make a decision about bail and release from jail. The Court will also schedule an entry of plea date.
At an entry of plea hearing, the defendant may enter a guilty, not guilty, or no contest plea. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the Court will schedule a trial date.
Sometimes, there are hearings on pretrial motions. Motions are applications to the Court by an attorney so that the Judge can make decisions on what kinds of evidence can be used at trial. Witnesses can be called at these hearings, so that the judge can hear the evidence that is being challenged.
At a trial, the district attorney has the burden of proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty of the charges. To meet that burden of proof, the district attorney needs to call witnesses to testify about the facts of the case. The defense attorney can then question the state's witnesses. Sometimes, papers and other items are introduced as evidence, too. The defense attorney can call witnesses, and sometimes calls the defendant as a witness. The district attorney can question the defense witnesses.
The district attorney can call witnesses after the defense case is finished. When the jury and the judge has heard all the evidence, the attorneys summarize their cases in closing arguments. After the attorneys are done, the judge instructs the jury on what law to apply to the facts. It is up to the jury to decide what the facts are in the case, and to decide what parts of the witnesses' testimony to believe. The jury then deliberates and reaches a verdict.
A defendant may change his plea later. If the defendant pleads guilty, or is found guilty at trial before a judge or with a jury, then the Court will have a sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, the district attorney, the defendant, the defense attorney, and the victim can all make statements to the court. Sometimes, witnesses testify at sentencings. It is very important to give the District Attorney your restitution claim form before sentencing. Once a defendant is sentenced, the victim will likely lose their right to claim restitution. Please call the victims' assistance office if you aren't able to send the claim form in immediately.
In some cases, the Court schedules a restitution hearing. This is a hearing, sometimes with witnesses, so that the Judge can decide the dollar amount of restitution for damages resulting from the criminal conduct of the defendant. Sometimes, papers and other kinds of evidence are used in restitution hearings.