What Every Victim Should Know About the Criminal Justice Process
No person ever asks to be the victim of a crime. Victims of crime may find themselves involved in the criminal justice process, which is almost always unfamiliar territory. The following information is intended as a way to arm yourself with knowledge, should you be a victim involved in a felony prosecution.
- What happens after I report the crime to the police?
Once your statement has been taken by the police (or another agency working with the police department, i.e. County Attorney’s Office, Child Advocacy Center) it is time for the investigating officer to continue with the investigation. This could mean talking to other people including your family or friends.
You should refrain from altering anyone else you think the police may approach. The investigating officer will want to take the most untainted, independent statement from others who may be involved. You may ask the investigating officer for a contact person that you can call at the police department for updates as the investigation goes forward. You will not receive information regarding the statements of other witnesses, but your contact person can tell you if the investigation is nearly complete. Once complete, the investigation will be forwarded to the County Attorney’s Office for review and possible presentation to the Grand Jury.
- What is the Grand Jury?
Even if the police have arrested and charged your assailant, a formal charge called an “indictment” must be sought by the County Attorney’s Office. This is done by presenting evidence (usually through the investigating officer, not witnesses) to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is a private session composed of between 12 and 23 people who listen to what evidence was gathered. The Grand Jury then determines if there is enough information to formally charge the suspect. Once an indictment is brought, the case is pending before the Superior Court, and a member of the County Attorney’s Office Victim Assistance Program will contact you.
- Will I be notified of all hearings?
Yes. However, not all hearings will require your presence. You can discuss with your Victim Assistance Coordinator the nature of the hearing (i.e. bail hearing, status conference, etc.) and to determine if you would like to, or need to, attend. Your Victim Assistance Coordinator has many other responsibilities that will be explained to you. This person is your contact person for any questions or concerns you have regarding the case. Please be sure to let the County Attorney’s Office know if you move or change your phone number.
- Am I a “party to the case”?
No. When someone is a “party to the case” this means they have standing to file pleadings with the court and appear before the judge relative to the case. Victims are not a “party to the case”, although victims are given great consideration throughout the process and will be kept updated at each stage of prosecution.
Victims may express their position regarding plea negotiations, going to trial, and their desire for a just sentence to Victim Assistance and the Prosecutor, who work together as a team. Usually, the only “parties” to a criminal case are the State of New Hampshire (prosecution) and the defense attorney.
- Where do I turn for help?
Your Victim Assistance Coordinator from the Prosecutor’s Office will offer help to you by way of information and support. There are other avenues you can pursue for assistance, not specifically offered at the Prosecutor’s Office. Victim Assistance can help you find those services in your community. These can include your local rape crisis center or domestic violence center that specialize in condifendial crisis intervention, or you may need a list of licenses therapists in your area. You may also ask about the New Hampshire Victims Assistance Commission who offer financial help to victims of crime.
Please be sure to review the Community Resources section located on our website.
- Will my case go to trial?
Not all cases go to trial – some defendants plead guilty. You will attend a meeting at the County Attorney’s Office to learn about all the possibilities involving your case. If the case against your assailant reaches trial, you will be the most important witness for the State.
- What is expected of me at trial?
Most trials are held before a jury, whose job it is to listen to the evidence and render a verdict. Prior to trial you will have prepared with the prosecutor’s office so that you know where to sit in the courtroom and where others will be seated. Pay close attention to any instructions given to you prior to trial. These may include such items as dress, demeanor, testifying, and your role and rights during trial.
- Be sure you have been up front with the Prosecutor’s Office regarding all of the information you have. They will want to avoid any surprises at trial. Share any and all information even if you think it may be harmful to the case.
- It is not like TV. The rules in the courtroom are strictly followed. Lawyers and witnesses are not permitted to shout out or behave irresponsibly.
- The job of presenting evidence is solely that of the Prosecutor. Wait for his/her questions and answer only that question, unless you are asked to narrate further. Do not offer information that was not asked for – your answer may be inadmissible evidence that the jury is not allowed to hear (such as the defendant’s criminal history). If there are specific areas that have been deemed inadmissible prior to trial, we will advise you of that before you testify.
- Prior to trial, ask in advance who may be allowed in the courtroom with you. There are rules about other witnesses sitting in the courtroom, so you will want to check with your Victim Assistance Coordinator and the Prosecutor. Do not communicate with any spectators in the courtroom from the witness stand (no thumbs up, okay signs, mouthing words of encouragement, etc.). The jury will be watching you at all times. However, support for you is essential. If you bring a family member or friend to the trial, you will have a place, other than the courtroom, to debrief and exchange words, hugs, and to feel supported.
- Try to keep from arguing with defense counsel during cross-examination. Answer the questions truthfully and respectfully, even if you feel defense counsel is not respectful with you. Do not try to anticipate the reason for the question or the point defense counsel hopes to make. Simply answer the question and rely on the Prosecutor to clear up any misleading impressions the defense attorney has left with the jury.
How will I be notified to testify?
You will either be contacted by telephone or letter, or you will be served with a subpoena. A subpoena is a court order requiring you to appear in court at a particular time. If the case has been continued to another date or time, you will be promptly notified of this change.
Are witnesses permitted in the courtroom?
The judge may order all witnesses to wait outside the courtroom until called to testify. This is called “sequestration”. If witnesses are sequestered, they cannot discuss their testimony with any other witnesses involved in the case.
Avoid advice from family and friends about the criminal justice process.
Friends, neighbors or family who want to share knowledge or their experience may approach you. Draw on friends and family for support, but not for information about your case or the criminal justice process in general. Even if someone has been through a similar experience, every case is different. You should rely on Victim Assistance for all information about how the process works and what you can expect from the prosecutor’s office.
Be proud of your part in this process. By coming forward to report the crime against you and testifying for a jury you have done your part. You should focus on the amount of courage you had to do just that. You may have saved someone else from being victimized. Not every case will result in a guilty verdict and we will discuss this possibility with you. Know you have done the right thing by participating in trying to bring your assailant to justice. Understand that a not guilty verdict does not mean “innocent”. Ask your Victim Assistance Coordinator about what is required to obtain a verdict of guilty (proof beyond a reasonable doubt) and know all the possible outcomes of a trial. Your role in the case has made you part of a very important process and should be a source of pride.