Victim Witness - The Criminal Justice System
As a victim or witness to a crime, your help is vital to our system of criminal justice. Without such cooperation, our system cannot function efficiently and guarantee a fair trial based on the full presentation of all the facts. The process of justice takes time, so your patience and commitment are essential. The following information will explain what happens in bringing a case to trial so that you may better understand the proceedings and inconveniences that may occur in the case involving you. Remember, it's very important to keep the District Attorney's Office informed of your current address and phone number so you can be contacted about a pending case. If you move or are temporarily available at a new location or phone, please notify the District Attorney's Office immediately.
SubpoenaA subpoena is a court order directing you to be present at the time and place stated. You may receive your subpoena in person or by mail. After receipt of the subpoena, contact the District Attorney's Office. Court hearings do not always take place at the precise time scheduled. Calendar conflicts, the unavailability of an essential witness, or a legal motion may cause your case to be delayed or "continued." Whenever possible, arrangements will be made to place you "on-call" or "telephone standby." This means that you may continue your normal daily business, but you must be able to come to court immediately when called by the District Attorney's Office. Your subpoena will indicate the type of hearing at which you will be appearing. Please bring your subpoena with you to court.
Preliminary HearingIn felony cases, your first appearance may be for the preliminary examination. This is not a trial, but a hearing at which a judge listens to the evidence of the crime and determines whether it is sufficient to require the defendant to stand trial in superior court. Normally, just enough evidence is presented to "hold the defendant to answer" in superior court. Witnesses are subpoenaed to testify at these hearings. No jurors will be present, since the judge alone decides if the defendant should be required to stand trial on the charges.
Felony TrialThe trial of a felony case will generally occur 45 days or more after the preliminary hearing. California law requires that a defendant with a felony be brought to trial within 60 days of the filing of the information or indictment in superior court, unless that right is waived by the accused. Thus, in some cases this time could extend to several months. Witnesses must also testify at trial, even though they were thoroughly questioned at the preliminary hearing. In some cases, a trial will not be held because the defendant pleads guilty. When this happens, you will be notified that your testimony will not be required, and you will be released from your obligation under the subpoena to come to court.
Misdemeanor TrialIn misdemeanor cases, there is no preliminary hearing. Your first appearance at court will be the actual trial. Therefore, your testimony will be required only once.
Your TestimonyIn your appearance as a witness, you will be called by a deputy district attorney to testify regarding what you saw, heard, or did which may be relevant to the charges against the defendant. After the district attorney has asked questions, the defense attorney has the right to test your memory of the facts, or "cross-examine" you. You may be excluded from the court room when other witnesses are testifying. This is to ensure that the testimony or memory of one witness does not influence the testimony of another.
Defense AttorneyWitnesses are sometimes requested by the defense attorneys to give interviews so that the defendant and his attorney know what the evidence in the case will be. If you receive such a request you may discuss it with the deputy district attorney responsible for your case. There are no laws or rules prohibiting you from telling the defendant's attorney your testimony before you take the stand. This is your decision and you should not feel pressured to speak or not to speak to anyone about the case. If you choose to speak to the defense attorney, you may wish to have an additional person present or a tape recording made to avoid later misunderstandings and misquotations.
VerdictYou may wait to see the verdict in your case after all testimony is completed, or you will be notified of the outcome of all felony cases by letter. To find out the result of a misdemeanor case, please call the District Attorney's Office.
After the TrialThe defendant will be found either guilty or not guilty of the crime. If the jury cannot reach a verdict, a mistrial will be declared and there may be a new trial. If the accused is found guilty, a date will be set for sentencing, usually 28 days after the verdict. The Judge may impose one or more of the following sentences:
- State Prison
- County Jail
- Fine Restitution