Frequently Asked Questions

The legal process is unfamiliar to many people. Many people who become part of the court process did not have a chance to learn about it beforehand. Because, for some reason, you or a family member is involved in a court case, there are some terms you will want to know.

Witness – A witness is anybody who is called to testify in court. “Witness” does not usually mean “eye witness”, as many crimes do not have eyewitnesses. People are called to testify because they have information about a particular matter.

Victim – The victim of a crime is usually the lead witness in a trial. The victim is not the person pressing charges; the state has brought the charges and the victim is a witness in the state’s case.

Defendant – The defendant is the person who has been charged with a crime.

Grand Jury – A felony case sent to Superior Court is first presented to the grand jury: a group of 12 to 23 citizens. The County Attorney’s Office presents the evidence in closed session. The defendant and the victim are not present.

Indictment – If twelve or more members of the grand jury believe that the defendant may have committed a crime, the defendant will be formally charged. This formal charge is called an “indictment”.

Arraignment – The defendant comes before the judge to enter a plea of not guilty and the issue of bail is reviewed. A plea of not guilty is almost always taken at this early stage, so the defense attorney has time to go over the case with his/her client. If the defendant wishes to change the plea to guilty at a later day, he/she may. Depending on where the charge is filed, the defendant can be arraigned in both circuit and superior court. After the arrest, the district court schedules arraignment. After indictment, the superior court schedules arraignment.

Bail – Bail is not meant to be a punishment, it is meant to keep the community safe and ensure the defendant’s appearance at court. Seldom is a suspect incarcerated while awaiting trial. An amount of Personal Recognizance, Cash, or Surety is set by the court to ensure a defendant’s appearance at future court hearings.

Motion – A motion is a written request from a lawyer to a judge. Motions can be made from the state or the defense; motion to continue trial, motion for discovery, motion for deposition (interview with witness).

Types of Hearings

After a motion is made, there is usually a hearing in front of the judge. At a hearing the state and the defense tell us why they are making the request or why they oppose it. A judge then makes a decision, called a ruling, or court order.

Pretrial Hearing – A pretrial hearing is scheduled a few weeks after the charge is brought – and again two weeks prior to trial. The prosecutor and defense attorney go before the judge to say if they are ready for trial, and how they expect the trial to last. A trial date is then set. If a defendant wishes to plead guilty, the judge is advised at the pretrial hearing and a sentencing date is scheduled.

Trial – All evidence, information and witness testimony is presented during trial. In a jury trial, all twelve jurors must agree on a verdict of guilty or not guilty. If the verdict is not guilty, the defendant has been acquitted and is released. If the verdict is guilty, the judge will sentence the defendant at a later date. When jurors cannot agree on a verdict it is called a “hung jury”. The case is deadlocked and may result in a new trial.

Plea Negotiation Hearing – By policy, a plea offer is made in every case. If agreed to, the defendant pleads guilty and is given a sentence, which has been negotiated by the state and defense. A trial is avoided in this situation. A judge must approve negotiated sentences. Victims are always advised before offers are made.

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.

Common Questions

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 may 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.

General Tips

    • 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.

Additional Information

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.

No-Contact Orders in Domestic Violence Cases

The defendant ordered to have no-contact with the victim is a standard bail condition in most, nearly all, domestic violence cases.  This is called a no-contact order, or no-contact provision of bail. This is done out of a concern for a victim’s safety, and to protect the integrity of the investigation while the case is pending. If a defendant violates the no-contact provision of his/her bail, he/she may face additional charges.

How long will the no-contact order remain in place?

Since the no-contact order is a condition of the defendant’s bail, it will remain in place while the case is pending. Once the case is resolved, typically by a plea or a trial, the bail conditions are no longer in effect and the no-contact order provision of bail is vacated.

How else can a no-contact order be dropped?

The defense attorney may submit a motion to the Court to vacate the no-contact order at any point while the case is pending. If this is done, the Court may schedule a hearing on the motion, and the Judge will decide whether or not the no-contact order will stay in place based upon the arguments of the defendant and the State.

I am afraid of the defendant and do not think the no-contact order will stop him/her from finding me. What else can I do to stay safe?

If you feel you need additional protection from the defendant, you may want to consider visiting the local Family Court https://www.courts.nh.gov and filing for a restraining order. These orders typically stay in place for one year. Restraining orders in the Family Court are independent from pending criminal cases, and will remain in place even if the criminal case has closed. Our partner agency, HAVEN https://havennh.org/ , can also provide assistance and protection in ways our office and the police departments may not. Do not hesitate to contact their office at any time to speak with an advocate about concerns for your safety.

I am not in fear for my safety and would like full contact with the defendant. What can I do to drop the no-contact order?

Though you may not feel a no-contact order is necessary, the order will remain in effect unless otherwise vacated by the Court. If you would like your thoughts on the no-contact order to be considered, please contact your Victim Assistance Coordinator. The Victim Assistance Coordinator assigned to your case will share your concerns with the Prosecutor.  Your concerns will be accurately relayed to the Judge anytime the no-contact order is addressed in court. However, in criminal cases, the victim is not a party (unlike when you file for a restraining order in Family Court).  The two parties to a criminal case are the State and the Defense.

What if the defendant and I have children together and need contact for childcare and visitation?

You can contact the Strafford County Visitation Center (516-4673 or https://co.strafford.nh.us/images/UploadedFiles/DomesticViolence/center_brochure_with_logo_web.pdf) to ask about their services. They specialize in safe drop-off, arranged in such a way that the parents do not have contact with one another.

Sometimes exceptions to the no-contact order can be made to allow for third party contact between the victim and the defendant to arrange for childcare, visitation, and exchanges. If you share a child with the defendant, please contact your Victim Assistance Coordinator and provide the name of someone you would like to nominate as a third party contact, in the event this exception is made. This should be someone both you and the defendant are comfortable with and who can easily be reached. The third party contact will be responsible for coordinating child related issues. If you currently follow a parenting plan through the Family Court, you may share your visitation schedule with your Victim Assistance Coordinator, as the Judge will often honor a pre-existing Family Court order.

There are also some phone apps that exist for this purpose and track all communication related to child care between the parents.

How does the no-contact order apply if the defendant is incarcerated?

If the defendant in your case is being held at the House of Corrections, he/she might not be restricted from having contact with you. If your case is domestic violence related, however, a criminal bail order of protection is issued as part of bail and is in effect even if the defendant is incarcerated – this is an expansion of a regular “no-contact order” and is issued by judges regularly on domestic violence cases.

Please be aware that all phone calls made through the House of Corrections are recorded, and the defendant can face additional charges such as witness tampering and criminal threatening depending on his/her conversations with you. If you do not want the defendant to contact you, please contact your Victim Assistance Coordinator or the House of Corrections and ask to have your phone number blocked. Calls from the jail are also easy to refuse and there is a selection to stop any future calls in the automated choices. Once the defendant is released from the House of Corrections, the no-contact order is fully enforceable, and the defendant will be ordered to refrain from contacting you by mail, email, text message, telephone, or through a third party. If you have sought and been granted a restraining order through the family court, that does apply during any period of incarceration and would prevent contact from the defendant whether or not the defendant is being held at the jail.

I went to the hospital after a sexual assault. While there, a nurse performed an evidence collection kit. (Sometimes referred to as a sexual assault kit or a rape kit).    What happened to that kit/evidence after I left the hospital?

Once completed, the hospital calls for a police officer to pick up the kit. It is then driven to the NH State Lab for testing. If you participated in the kit anonymously, then the kit was given a number, instead of a name.   The kit was stored safely at the hospital until an officer could retrieve it. Depending on the facts of your case, the lab, as necessary, might test only parts of a kit.

Will I get a bill from the hospital for my kit?

No.  If that happens, it is a mistake.  Call any crisis center or your county attorney’s advocate and give the bill to them.

 Is the presence of semen, evidence of a crime?

Not always. Be sure to ask these important questions and have the answers explained to you by your team at the county attorney’s office.   Navigating these matters can get confusing.  They will provide you with answers.

Personal items of mine were taken by investigators during the investigation. Those items included such things as undergarments and sheets.  Where are they now?  

All physical evidence is stored at the police department in their locked evidence storage room. If your items were sent to lab for testing, the items were returned to the police department once testing was completed.

What is a forensic interview?

Whether you are the victim or a witness of a crime, your participation in the interview process is an important piece of the criminal investigation. Your interview serves as your statement to the police. Forensic interviews are legally sound because the interviewer remains neutral, while asking non-leading questions. Forensic interviews usually last for 1-2 hours, but this can vary case-to-case.

Who will be interviewing me?

You will be interviewed by a trained forensic interviewer from the Child Advocacy Center. These individuals are trained interviewers and have conducted hundreds of interviews and in some cases thousands, with victims and witnesses of all ages. A detective from the corresponding police department will be present for your interview and will be able to observe the interview in a nearby room.

What should I be expected to know during the interview?

Your only responsibility is to participate in a conversation with the interviewer and to answer all of the questions truthfully and completely. You may be asked to answer questions of an embarrassing or personal nature. If this happens, it is because your answer would be important, not to cause you distress. If you are asked a question that you do not understand, always feel free to tell the interviewer.

Why are forensic interviews recorded and who can view them?

All interviews done at the Child Advocacy Center are recorded, both audio and video, which has been protocol for over two decades. This keeps an accurate account of what you have said and the questions you were asked. The interviews are stored securely, but an audio copy is provided to the detective. If a criminal charge is brought following the investigation, only parties related to the case may view the statement (defendant, attorneys, you, etc.). Family members and other witnesses are not permitted to view the recording. This helps to protect the integrity of the evidence.

Is anyone allowed to come into the forensic interview with me?

Family, friends and other witnesses are not permitted to be in the interview with you. However, if you have brought an advocate from a support agency whose interactions with you are confidential by law, that person may be with you before and after the interview and may also be available to see you during a break, if necessary.

Can a forensic interview replace my courtroom testimony?

If a criminal charge arises from the investigation, the recorded statement does not take the place of a courtroom testimony. By law, such a practice is not allowed.

What does a judge do?

The judge is responsible for keeping order in the courtroom, presiding over the selection of jurors, permitting the presentation of evidence through testimony of witnesses or the introduction of exhibits. The judge determines what evidence can be considered by the jurors when making their decision, explains the law that applies to the case to the jurors, so they can deliberate, and sentences the defendant if the defendant is found guilty in a criminal case.

What does a court clerk do?

The court clerk assists the judge. The Court Clerk has many responsibilities including scheduling and monitoring remote hearings, being responsible for the clerical courtroom activities, determining whether cases are ready for hearing or trial, keeping the court calendar, giving legal notices, and many more administrative duties.

What does a jury do?

A jury consists of 12 people who are selected to hear the evidence in a civil or criminal trial. The evidence is offered by the plaintiff in a civil trial and by the prosecutor in a criminal trial. In most cases, more than 12 jurors are selected for trial to account for any unexpected juror absences (sickness, etc.). At the conclusion of the case, only 12 jurors will deliberate. After the jurors hear the evidence presented during the trial, they must try to decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The judge gives them instructions and guidelines for their deliberations. In criminal cases, all 12 members of the jury must agree on the verdict.

What does a Bailiff and Court Officer do?

The Bailiff and Court Officer are responsible for keeping order for the courtroom, assisting with courtroom security.

What does the audience do?

Most court proceedings are open to the public. That means anyone who is not involved in the case can attend and listen: friends and relatives of the plaintiff or defendant, members of the press, other lawyers, members of the public, school students, etc. Good court etiquette is always expected.  Meaning quiet, no phone usage, and proper dress.

Do I need to hire an attorney?

No, you do not need to hire an attorney to represent you. The County Attorney’s Office will handle the prosecution of your case. The County Attorney is paid by Strafford County, so you are not required to pay legal fees. If you wish to pursue your case in civil court, however, you must hire your own attorney to represent you.

When will my property be returned?

All property and personal belongings will be returned to the rightful owners at the end of all court trial proceedings. The Strafford County Attorney’s Office and/or the Victim Assistance Program can assist you in their return.

What about confidentiality?

All professional personnel including the police, medical staff, and the Strafford County Attorney’s Office will respect your right of privacy and will not divulge your name to unauthorized personnel.

Should I discuss the case with the attorney or investigator working for the defendant?

Someone from the defense team may approach you for an interview.  This could happen at any point during the pendency of the case.   The choice is yours about whether to speak with them.   You are not obligated to do so, however, you may do so at your choosing.   If you choose to speak with the defense team, the county attorney’s office asks that you notify us and allow us to be present for your interview.