The criminal justice system operates through a series of steps in a specified sequential order. However, there may be delays between one stage and the next, and some cases may not follow the order exactly. Victims have special rights during ten specific stages of the criminal justice process: reporting, investigation, charging/indictment, initial hearing/arraignments, discovery, plea bargaining and pre-trial, trial, sentencing, post-sentencing (incarceration and/or probation or parole) and appeal.
If you have questions or feel your rights have been violated, please contact the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center at 614-848-8500.
A crime may be reported to law enforcement in several ways:
- Call 911: If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
- Medical Centers: Victims of sexual assault and domestic violence have special rights at the hospital. Those rights include the right to be treated as a priority patient with a private room. Hospital staff should call a sexual assault advocate immediately to provide assistance to a sexual assault victim. Victims at the hospital should be allowed to have a support person present, and sexual assault victims should be informed that, while reporting to police is encouraged, it is not mandatory. Victims may also choose to have a sexual assault forensic examination performed by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). Hospitals are required to perform these exams upon request of the victim.
- Contact the local police department: Call the direct line of your local police department or visit the station in person. If you are on a college campus you may also be able to contact campus-based law enforcement.
- A bystander or law enforcement officer who witnesses a crime may also report a crime.
Please be aware that there may be a specified window where a crime can be reported, called a “Statute of Limitations.” Statutes of limitation vary by location, type of crime, age of the victim, and various other factors. A statute of limitations assessment is a legal determination that should be made by a licensed attorney.
For more information on the statute of limitations, please contact the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center at 614-848-8500.
After reporting to law enforcement, the investigation phase begins. During this phase, police officers will provide victims with information concerning victims’ rights, support services,
- Victim statement: Law enforcement will oftentimes take a statement from the victim regarding the crime and the surrounding circumstances. At this time, law enforcement should provide crime victims with information about: crime victims’ rights, available resources, how to obtain a protection order, and the Ohio Attorney General Crime Victim Compensation Fund. Law enforcement may question witnesses and potential suspects as well.
- Evidence collection: If law enforcement believes there is evidence of a crime at a particular location, they may request to search the area or obtain a search warrant. A search warrant requires that a judge review the information submitted by the police and determines whether there is "probable cause" to support issuing a warrant. Probable cause means that law enforcement has presented enough facts to support a belief that there is evidence of a crime at the location described in the warrant. A warrant may not be required in some situations. Police may seize evidence at a crime scene to hold for the duration of the investigation and subsequent trial.
- Arrest/Release: Once police identify a suspect and collect sufficient evidence, they may take the suspect into custody through an arrest. Crime victims have a right to be notified of an arrest. Suspects may be released on bond. Crime victims have a right to be notified of release.
If the victim feels that his or her rights during investigation have been violated, the victim should discuss these concerns with law enforcement. The victim should discuss these concerns with the investigating officer directly, or with a supervisor, if the investigating officer is not receptive to the victim's concerns.
For more detail on this phase, please contact the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center at 614-848-8500.
Law enforcement may decide to file criminal charges before or after an arrest.
- Charges: A filing of written charges may be called a complaint or an information. The filing starts the prosecution phase of the criminal justice process. Complaints and informations are more common with misdemeanor crimes.
- Indictment: At the federal level and in Ohio, depending on the type of crime- a defendant has a right to an indictment. Indictments are typically required for felony crimes, unless the prosecutor and defense attorney have agreed on a charge through a bill of information. An indictment is a document issued by a grand jury, a group of 16-23 unbiased persons, charging a defendant with a crime. Grand jury proceedings are secret.
Typically, a victims' advocate from the prosecutor's office or another criminal justice system-based victims' advocate will contact a victim before or during the charging or indictment phase. If the victim has not been contacted by an advocate at this point, the victim may wish to contact the local prosecutor's office to speak with an advocate directly.
The victim is often asked to testify at grand jury, but not always. In instances of crimes against children or when the prosecutor believes he/she has sufficient evidence for an indictment, the victim may not be asked to testify at grand jury. The victim will not be allowed to attend the full grand jury proceeding, only to testify if requested.
Very early in the criminal justice process, if the victim has suffered economic losses in the form of medical bills, lost wages, property damage, or other monetary losses, the victim should inform the prosecutor of the victim’s desire to seek restitution. Restitution is when the court orders the defendant to pay the victim back from his or her losses. The victim should keep track of receipts, mileage, and lost wages resulting from the crime to present evidence of the losses to the court. For more information regarding restitution contact the local victim advocate or the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center.
For more detail on charges, indictments, or victim compensation, please contact the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center at 614-848-8500.
The first important hearing is the arraignment. This is the first appearance of the defendant before the court and usually occurs the same day or the day after the defendant’s arrest. Victims have the constitutional right to notice of proceedings, if they requested notice. Victims also have the right to be present and heard at arraignment if the court is considering release.
- Bail or Bond: Victims should consider attending arraignment because it is at this time that the court will decide whether to release a defendant on bail or bond and the terms of the bail or bond. If a victim is concerned that a defendant released on bond will pose a threat to the victim, the victim can request a criminal protection order in some instances. The victim has the right to be heard during arraignment. In some instances, a defendant may be released without bail or bond.
- Pleas: At the initial hearing, the defendant must enter a plea. The defendant pleads guilty, not guilty, or no contest (accepts the penalty without admitting guilt). If the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, no trial is held, and the offender is sentenced that day or at a later date. If the defendant pleads not guilty, a date is set for the trial.
- Notifications to Victim: Upon request by the victim, the prosecutor will notify victims of upcoming court dates. Victims have the right to be present during all public hearings. Victims also have the right to be heard any time a victim's right is at stake. If a victim wishes to be present during any hearing (including the trial), but has been told he or she cannot be present by a prosecutor or advocate, he or she should contact the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center immediately to request legal representation to protect his or her right to be present. Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center legal services are provided at no charge to crime victims. A victim should discuss his or her desire to be present with the advocate or prosecutor well in advance of scheduled hearings to ensure there is time to obtain legal representation if needed.
If a victims' advocate from the prosecutors office or another system-based advocate has not reached out to the victim prior to the initial hearing, the victim should contact the advocate if the victim wishes to give the court any information concerning bail or a criminal protection order.
For more detail on arraignments and victim notifications, please contact the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center at 614-848-8500.
Generally, if a case is moving toward trial, Discovery will follow arraignment. Discovery is a process by which the defendant and state exchange pertinent information about the case.
- Suppression Hearings: There may be hearings on the admissibility of some evidence exchanged, called suppression hearings.
- Witnesses: Prosecutors and defense attorneys will talk to witnesses to find out what they might say at trial.
- Exculpatory Information: A prosecutor has a continuing obligation to provide the defendant documents and other information that may reflect upon the case. A failure of the prosecutor to do so can expose the prosecutor to fines/sanctions by the court. Further, the prosecutor is required to provide the defense with evidence that may hurt the state’s case, called exculpatory evidence. Victims should be aware that statements provided to the prosecutor or their staff may be turned over to the defense during Discovery.
For more detail on the discovery process, please contact the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center at 614-848-8500.
A prosecutor may offer the defendant a plea bargain, an agreement on a specific outcome in exchange for a guilty plea.
- Plea Offer: If a plea or any other pre-trial disposition is offered, the prosecutor should confer with the victim and get the victim’s opinion on the offer. The prosecutor should inform the court whether or not the victim agrees with the plea. The victim has the right to be heard by the court at any plea hearing.
- Result of Plea: A plea bargain causes the case to skip over all, or part of, the trial and proceed to sentencing. Typically, a plea bargain will cause the prosecution to recommend a lesser sentence or decline to recommend an enhanced sentence. Ultimately, it is up to the judge to determine the sentence, not the prosecution or the defense. A defendant may only plead guilty if he or she actually committed the crime and admits to doing so in open court before the judge after being advised of his or her rights.
- Pre-trial Motions: A motion is a request to the court made by the prosecutor or defense counsel, asking that the court make a decision on an issue before the trial begins. The motion can affect the trial, courtroom, defendants, evidence, or testimony.
For more detail on these rights, please contact the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center at 614-848-8500.
Once these issues are resolved, if a plea is not reached, the case will go to trial. A trial has many parts beyond what you typically see on television. Importantly, the victim may be present during trial. If a victim wishes to be present during the trial, but has been told he or she cannot be present by a prosecutor or advocate, he or she should contact the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center immediately to request legal representation to protect his or her right to be present. Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center legal services are provided at no charge to crime victims. A victim should discuss his or her desire to be present with the advocate or prosecutor well in advance of scheduled hearings to ensure there is time to obtain legal representation, if needed.
- Jury Selection: Jurors are selected from a large group of potential jurors who reside in the jurisdiction. Both the prosecution and the defense have the opportunity to question potential jurors and challenge their inclusion in the jury. The victim can be present during jury selection.
- Opening Statements: Both the prosecutor and defense attorney offer opening statements at the beginning of the trial. The statements outline the case and do not involve witnesses or evidence.
- Presentation of Case: The prosecution begins its case first with the presentation and questioning of witnesses. Each side has an opportunity to question a witness. After the prosecution finishes presenting its evidence, the defense has an opportunity to present its evidence in response. Throughout the trial, both sides may make objections that ask the judge to make decisions on a line of questioning or piece of evidence. Finally, both sides have the opportunity to present closing arguments to summarize the case.
- Jury Instructions: After closing arguments, the judge tells the jury what they need to do to reach a verdict and what law they must follow.
- Jury Deliberation and Verdict: At the conclusion of trial, the judge or jury will find the defendant guilty or not guilty. If the defendant is found guilty, sentencing will follow.
If the offender is found guilty, he or she will return to Court to be sentenced by the judge (or a jury in death penalty cases).
- Statements: The victim has a right to make a victim impact statement regarding the impact of the crime on the victim and a sentence recommendation. The offender may see the victim impact statement, but not retain a copy. The victim impact statement is not public record. The judge may also consider statements by the defendant and attorneys.
- Sentence Imposed: Judges have the discretion to impose a wide range of sentences, though the judge is sometimes limited by mandatory sentences. Possible sentences include: restitution, fines, probation, jail or prison, or the death penalty.
If the offender is convicted and a sentence is imposed, the victim may have rights to assert.
- Incarceration: Once an offender is convicted, the defendant may be incarcerated, placed in jail or prison. The victim has the right to notification of the escape, release, or death of the offender and also has the right to request that they NOT receive notification.
- Probation or Parole: A judge may suspend a jail or prison sentence in whole or in part and instead place the offender under community control, i.e. probation or parole. If the offender is to be released, the victim should be contacted and provided the opportunity to make a statement regarding the impact of the crime. Offenders who violate the conditions of their probation or parole are subject to additional punishments.
After an offender has been found guilty, he or she can appeal to a higher court. Defendants who are convicted through a plea bargain cannot appeal in most cases. An appeal asserts an error by the trial court that the appellate court should fix. There are a large variety of appeals and appeals are a complicated process. Victims have the right to be notified if an appeal is filed.
For more detail on the appeals process, please contact the Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center at 614-848-8500.