Victims Guide to the Felony Process
The felony process is often complicated and confusing. As a victim, you may have many questions about what is required of you and what happens as the case moves through the system. You have the right to have your questions answered so that you understand the process and you have the right to be notified of court dates and early release request. Most of your question can be answered by the Victim Services Coordinator from our police department. If you need to be referred for further information, they will do so.
It is important to remember that the process moves very slowly. Remember that the police, victims assistance staff, prosecutor or others who have firsthand knowledge of your case can be helpful in answering questions. By learning the laws, terms, rules and events that happen through the criminal justice process, you will be able to better understand how and why decision are made.
In the criminal process you do not need your own attorney. You will be represented by the State through the Attorney General’s Office. This attorney makes the decision about how the case is prosecuted and you have the right to request input to the decisions and the right to be notified of all hearings/outcome of criminal cases involving you as a crime victim.
After an incident is reported to the police, patrol officers or detectives from the department will investigate whether a crime has been committed, then collect evidence and identify suspects.
As a victim you may be required for:
- Make a statement to the police,
- Look at a photographic line up to help in identifying suspects
- Respond to other request during eh investigation which may include providing personal items as evidence.
There are various outcomes to a criminal case. It may be that the case is unfounded. This means that there is not enough evidence to prove in court that a crime has been committed, therefore, the case will not continue.
If the case does continue to the next phase, under the requirements of the law, you as the crime victim will be noticed on all steps throughout the process. The criminal process starts when an arrest is made.
The Initial Appearance/Bail Hearing of the defendant is held in the Justice of the Peace Court. The purpose is to file charges and to set bail for the defendant. This hearing will be held within 24 hours of arrest. The defendant has a constitutional right to reasonable bail for most offenses. The alleged defendant will be held in custody until bail is posed. As long as the defendant has the ability to make bail, s/he can be released. The purpose of bail is to insure that the alleged defendant will appear for his/her scheduled court hearings. THIS HEARING IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
The Judge or Magistrate may also place certain conditions upon the release of the defendant such as: mandatory treatment, curfew or no contact with the victim. If the defendant violated the conditions of bail, he/she can be charged with a new crime such as breach of release/non compliance with bail. THIS HEARING IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
ATTORNEY GENERAL’S INTAKE
The Attorney General Intake is a screening process to see if there is enough evidence to file charge in the court system. This meeting includes the police, prosecutor and/or a paralegal. All case facts and evidence will be considered. THIS MEETING IS NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
The result of the meeting could be:
- Further investigation is needed.
- Charges stay the same.
- Charges are added, reduced or dropped.
- Case is sent to another court.
The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to determine if there is sufficient evidence to continue prosecution. It is held in the Court of Common Pleas. If the defendant wishes to waive the hearing, (give up the right to this hearing), is not held and charges go on to Superior Court. If the defendant wishes to have a hearing, usually the only witness who testifies is the investigating police officer. However, if you are subpoenaed to testify, you must appear and should immediately call the Attorney General’s Victim/Witness Program and the investigating officer. THIS HEARING IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
The court can decide to:
- Send the charges to Superior Court.
- Reduce or dismiss one or more of the charges.
CHARGING METHODS INDICTMENT/INFORMTAION
Indictment: is the finding of the Grand Jury that a crime probably occurred and charges may proceed against the defendant in Superior Court. The Grand Jury is a randomly selected group of Delaware citizens who consider evidence to see if there should be an indictment. Usually only the police officer testifies.
Neither the defendant nor the attorneys are present. If the Grand Jury fails to indict, it is likely the case will not proceed any further. If the defendant is indicted, you will be notified of future court proceeding. THE GRAND JURY HEARING IS CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC.
Information: If the defendant waives indictment, he/she can be charged by the prosecutor through the use of a document called information. It is not uncommon for charges to be filed by information, especially Kent and Sussex Counties.
The purpose of this review is to determine if bail can be reduced so that the defendant can be released from pretrial detention. This hearing can be held anytime and is open to the public. Bail review may be held in Magistrate Court or the Court of Common Pleas if the defendant has not been indicted or an information filed. If the defendant has been indicted or an information filed, it is held in Superior Court.
The arraignment is held in Superior Court. The purpose is to read the charges to the defendant. At this time, the defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. This hearing can be waived by the defendant. This means that the defendant chooses not to have this hearing and will go to trial without it. THIS HEARING IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
The case review is an informal meeting of the prosecutor and defense attorney to discuss plea agreement options and determine readiness for trial. If a plea agreement is signed, the defendant is brought into the courtroom for the official taking of the pleas by the judge. The case review is not open to the public, however, since a please may be entered in the court by the defendant, you should talk to the prosecutor about whether to attend.
Felony trials are held in Superior Court. The purpose is to determine if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The trial is usually scheduled 70 days after indictment or filing of information, if no continuances are granted. However, due to current court backlogs, many cases take over a year to come to trial.
You must testify if called as a witness. Check with the prosecutor before the trial date. Most felony trials are before jury. However, some are tried with only a judge presiding.
The jury in a criminal trial can: find the defendant guilty, guilty of a lesser charge or not guilty. A mistrial may be declared if the jury fails to reach a unanimous decision.
During trail, the judge can dismiss the charge or declare a mistrial for various reasons. Usually this has to do with evidence problems or rules of court procedure. The prosecutor will explain to you what happened if a dismissal/mistrial occurred. Superior Court trials are open to the public.