What does the District Attorney Do?
After a crime occurs, a law enforcement officer is responsible for apprehending, arresting and booking the suspect. The accused may remain in custody or be released. Some cases get to court without an actual arrest. Many misdemeanor offenders are cited and released on the scene.
Some cases require further investigation before a criminal complaint is filed. In those cases, a decision to request an arrest warrant or just cite the defendant into court will be made based on the seriousness of the offense and public safety issues, as well as the defendant’s ties to the community.
The District Attorney’s office reviews case facts and makes a decision as to which charges to file. The District Attorney may elect not to prosecute if there is not enough evidence.
A misdemeanor is a crime, which is punishable by one or more of the following: not more than one year in the county jail; or fine.
A felony is a crime that is punishable by one or more of the following: prison term, fine; county jail; probation; or death.
An arraignment is the first court appearance, wherein the defendant is officially informed of the charges filed against him. The defendant may enter a plea of “guilty”, “not guilty”, or “no contest.”
At the preliminary hearing, a judge determines whether there is enough evidence for the defendant to stand trial as charged. These hearings are held only in felony cases. Most of the time, the testimony is presented through the peace officer that took the witness’ statement.
All evidence, information, and witness testimony is presented during the trial. In a court trial, a judge determines the guilt or innocence of the defendant. 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 will be released. If the verdict is guilty, the judge will sentence the defendant, usually at a later date. When jurors cannot agree on a verdict, a “hung jury,” the case is deadlocked and may result in a new trial.
In a misdemeanor case, before sentencing, the judge may refer the case to the Probation Department. In a felony case, before sentencing, the judge will refer the case to the Probation Department. A probation officer will conduct an investigation of the defendant’s background and also consider the impact of the crime on the victim’s life and property. This information is used in determining the sentence.
As part of the sentence, the judge may order the defendant to reimburse the victim for financial losses (restitution).
At the sentencing, the judge considers information and recommendations in the pre-sentence report, testimony from witnesses (in some cases), arguments by the attorneys, and sentencing laws and guidelines. Based on this information, the judge pronounces a sentence.
The victim has the right to appear in court and may address the court at this time. A victim impact statement should be submitted before the sentencing so the judge can consider it.