CAN I DROP THE CHARGES?
Once the police investigate and charges are filed, the prosecuting attorney decides if a case will go forward or not. A victim’s wishes are taken into account, but the attorney also must consider the strength of the evidence.
WHAT HAPPENS IN COURT?
After a person is charged with a crime that person (“the defendant”) will have a first appearance, where the judge explains the defendant’s rights, makes sure they have an attorney and decides whether they should be held in jail. The judge can make a defendant pay bail or can set other conditions before letting a defendant out of jail.
Bail is cash or a bond held by the court which can be forfeited if the defendant fails to appear for court dates, breaks the law or violates the conditions of release.
Later, there will be an omnibus hearing or evidentiary hearing, where the judge will decide what evidence may be used at trial, and whether enough evidence exists for the case to go to trial. If the case is set for trial, a pretrial conference will be held at which time a plea agreement may be discussed.
WHY ARE SOME DEFENDANTS LET OUT OF JAIL?
“Innocent until proven guilty” is not just a phrase from television dramas and movies. The laws and Constitution of the United States and of the State of Minnesota give all people certain rights. In some cases, a bail study will be done before the court decides whether or not to release someone.
Often, defendants are released on their promise to appear at future court dates. If the court decides that a defendant is unlikely to appear at future court hearings or could be a threat to public safety, bail, or special conditions of release, such as no contact with victims or witnesses, may be imposed.
You should notify the prosecutor’s office of any concerns you have regarding a defendant’s release. You may be asked to speak to the person conducting the bail study.
You should report a violation of conditions of release by calling 911 immediately when they occur.
WILL THIS CASE GO TO TRIAL?
More than 95 per cent of criminal cases settle before trial. The defendant may plead guilty to one or more of the original charges, or to a modified charge, or there may be some other disposition. A plea agreement may be negotiated between the prosecution and defense attorneys.
A plea agreement is a way of avoiding a trial when it appears that it would be in the best interests of the public, the victim and the effective administration of justice to do so.
WHAT ABOUT THE TRIAL?
As a victim or witness, your cooperation with the prosecutor and with law enforcement is essential. You may be contacted for further information. You will be informed by the prosecutor’s office of any special things you should do pending trial. If you change your address or phone number, please contact the prosecutor’s office as soon as possible.
It is rare, but sometimes, the defendant or others try to threaten or coerce a victim or witness. Tampering with a witness is a serious crime. Please report any concerns, threats or property damage immediately to your local law enforcement agency and to the prosecutor’s office.
WHO WILL HAVE TO TESTIFY?
Testimony of victims is usually not required until trial. The prosecutor will decide which witnesses to call as the case is prepared. If there is a plea agreement, there will be no trial and your testimony will probably not be necessary. If your testimony is needed, you will receive a subpoena telling you where and when to appear.
When you receive a subpoena, you should contact the prosecutor’s office to check the status of the case and talk about your testimony.
WHAT HAPPENS AT TRIAL?
The trial may be before a jury of 6 or 12 people, or to a judge alone if the defendant gives up the right to a jury trial. The trial begins with both sides having the chance to make an opening statement on the facts they expect to prove. The prosecutor then presents the state’s case by using witnesses’ testimony and physical evidence or exhibits.
When the prosecutor has finished, the defense attorney presents the defense case in the same way. The defendant doesn’t have to prove anything. The defendant doesn’t have to testify. When both sides have put in all their evidence, each side makes a closing argument, with the prosecutor going first. The judge or jury reviews the evidence they have heard and makes a decision of guilty or not guilty. The prosecutor must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
WHAT WILL BE THE SENTENCE?
The judge must apply the “Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines,” which sets out a presumptive sentence that a defendant should receive based on the seriousness of the crime and the defendant’s criminal record. When a probationary sentence is called for. a judge may impose local jail time, fines, treatment, restitution, or other conditions of probation.
Before sentencing, a pre-sentence investigation is prepared which includes a social history of the defendant, a victim impact statement and other information and recommendations. The prosecutor and defense attorney may make recommendations to the judge regarding sentencing.
Victims are allowed to tell the judge how the crime affected them and what they think the sentence should be. This can be through a letter, through statements in open court or through comments made by the prosecutor on the victim’s behalf.
HOW CAN VICTIMS BE COMPENSATED FOR THEIR LOSS?
Restitution (payment of damages) can be ordered as a condition of a defendant’s sentence. Your request for restitution must be in writing; it must list the items for which you are requesting restitution, the dollar amount requested, and the reasons for your request. Your request must be signed and given to the prosecutor’s office. If you need additional information about how to make your restitution request, please contact the prosecutor.
In addition, you or others may be able to receive compensation for some of your economic loss from the Minnesota Crime Victims Reparations Board. Economic loss may include medical-related expenses, psychological-related expenses, loss of income, child care services, loss of support, and burial expenses.
For further information contact: Crime Victims Reparation Board, Suite N465, Griggs Midway Building, 1821 University Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota 55104, Telephone: (612)642-0395, 1-800-247-0390, Fax: (612)642-0440. Or go https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ojp/help-for-crime-victims/Pages/default.aspx.