Understanding the Criminal and Civil Justice Systems

circumstances, sentencing agreements are beneficial. If the preliminary investigation was inadequate, the offender may have been arraigned on a charge the State cannot prove. Critical witnesses may no longer be available. It may be better in these circumstances to allow the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge and be held accountable, rather than to go to trial and

Communicate your desired outcome with the prosecutor.

have the defendant walk free. When a case goes before a jury to decide, the outcome is always uncertain.

The Trial Process If the defendant persists in pleading not guilty, the case will be set for trial. He or she has a constitutional right to choose whether the case is to be decided by a judge (bench trial) or a jury. In most jurisdictions, the State must accept the form requested by the defendant. Be prepared for numerous postponements or continuances after a trial date has been set. If the defendant chooses a jury trial, jury selection may take days or weeks before the trial actually begins. The defense attorney may try to prevent you from attending the trial. A common tactic of the defense is to subpoena you as a potential witness and then ask the judge to invoke the “rule of sequestration”—a rule stating that witnesses cannot listen to each other testify and must therefore be “sequestered” out of the courtroom. Even though you may not be called to testify, you will, thereby, be kept out of the courtroom, never to be seen by the judge or jury.

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