Understanding the Criminal and Civil Justice Systems

the prosecuting attorney may: • charge the offender with the criminal charges recommended by the investigating agency; • charge the offender with different, fewer, or additional charges; • or decide not to charge the offender because of insufficient evidence. In most states, one of two procedures will be utilized to determine whether probable cause of sufficient evidence exists to proceed to trial. A preliminary hearing may be held in which the prosecutor and a few witnesses appear before the judge. If the judge determines that sufficient evidence exists, the accused will be scheduled for arraignment. Or a grand jury hearing is conducted in which the evidence is presented by the prosecutor to a group of citizens rather than a judge. Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public, including the victims/survivors. The accused is not present while others testify. The accused may or may not testify. If the grand jury determines that sufficient evidence exists, they hand down a “true bill of indictment,” and the accused will be scheduled for arraignment. If they do not think sufficient evidence exists, the case is “no billed.” At the arraignment, the suspect is brought before the judge who informs him or her of the charges pending and of constitutional rights, including the right to a court-appointed defense attorney. At this point, the accused suspect is now referred to as the defendant. It is common for initial charges to change when evidence is reviewed.


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