Criminal Justice System
As a victim of a crime, you may find the criminal justice system confusing and frustrating. This information is provided to assist crime victims in understanding some of the steps a case may take in the criminal justice system. The following is only an outline; please remember that each case is unique. Victims may call the Victim Assistance Division (VAD) at 503-588-5253 or toll free at 1-866-780-0960 for additional information on the criminal justice system, emotional support and community resources.
When a crime is reported, the police will usually interview the victim, suspect, possible witnesses and collect any physical evidence. The suspect may or may not be arrested and placed in custody at the Marion County Jail.
When a suspect is arrested and is placed in custody, he/she may be released at any time. A victim can request to be notified of the suspect’s release by contacting Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) at 1-877-674-8463. When a suspect is released, he/she will sign a Release Agreement. This agreement states that the suspect CAN NOT have contact with the victim. If the suspect contacts the victim, the victim may report the violation to their local police agency. If a violation has occurred, the suspect could be placed into custody or maintain his/her release with a warning NOT to re-contact the victim and sometimes, additional conditions are imposed.
Victims may be eligible for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and/or a Stalking Protection Order. If you would like more information, you may call the Victim Assistance Division at 503-588-5253 or toll free at 1-866-780-0960.
When a case is opened in the District Attorney’s Office, the victim’s information is entered into a computer system so the victim will receive notification of court hearings. In cases involving children, sexual assault, homicide, and in some domestic violence cases, a VAD advocate is assigned to assist the victim(s). The case is assigned to a Deputy District Attorney (DDA) to decide what charges, if any, should be brought against the suspect. If charged, the suspect is now referred to as the defendant. Cases with misdemeanor crimes are charged by Information. Felony crimes must be presented to the Grand Jury to charge. After a defendant is charged, he/she will appear before a judge to be arraigned on the charge(s).
The Grand Jury determines if there is enough evidence to charge a defendant with a felony crime. Grand Jury is not as formal as other court hearings; it is held in a conference room and consists of seven jury members. Most victims will need to testify before the Grand Jury. A judge is not present and usually the defendant does not testify. If the defendant were to testify, it would be at a time different from the victim and the other witnesses.
At arraignment, the judge will inform the defendant of the charge(s). A plea hearing is scheduled and a defense attorney may be assigned to the defendant. If the defendant is being held in custody, a bail hearing may be scheduled. In some cases, mostly misdemeanor cases, a defendant may also enter a plea at the arraignment. If a guilty plea is entered, the defendant could be sentenced at that time.
Bail hearings can be held anytime, but are usually set within one week of the arraignment. A bail hearing is scheduled for a judge to determine if the defendant should be released and if so, the amount of bail, if any. The judge may also impose additional release conditions.
At or shortly after the arraignment, the DDA provides the defense attorney with copies of the police reports; this is called Discovery. After Discovery is given, the DDA and the Defense Attorney may begin plea negotiations to resolve the case without a trial. The victim’s opinion about a negotiation will be an important part of the process.
A plea hearing is the time set for a defendant to enter a plea in regard to the charges. If a defendant enters a plea of guilty or no contest, the judge could sentence the defendant at that time or schedule a sentencing date. If a defendant enters a not guilty plea, a status conference and/or pretrial hearing is usually scheduled. It is important to know that a defendant may change his/her plea to guilty at any hearing and be sentenced. As the victim, you can attend any hearing and give an oral or written victim statement at sentencing.
Status conferences are where the judge, DDA and defense attorney meet, usually in the judge’s chamber, to discuss the case. There could be several of these meetings. A pretrial hearing is like a status conference, but it is usually the last meeting before the trial.
A trial can be either a bench or jury trial. A bench trial is where a judge decides if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. A jury trial is where the jury members decide. With a verdict of not guilty, the charges are dismissed. With a verdict of guilty, a sentencing date is scheduled.
At sentencing the victim has the right to give a victim statement to the judge. If the victim is a child, the parent(s) also have the right to give a statement. A victim statement may be given verbally or in writing.
A defendant sentenced to prison or jail will then be referred to as an inmate/prisoner. As the victim, if the defendant is sentenced to prison, you have the right to be informed of the inmate’s release date and any hearings. Victims who want to be notified will need to fill out the Hearing/Release request form and/or register with VINE. A Hearing/Release form is sent to the victim with a disposition notice that lists sentencing information. If you do not receive a form, you may contact the Victim Assistance Division. If the defendant is sentenced to jail, you can be informed of the inmate’s release by registering with the VINE system. To register with VINE call 1-877-674-8463. VINE’s service is free.
The Marion County Probation Office will assign a probation officer to defendants sentenced to supervised probation. The victim may find out the name of the defendant’s probation officer and the probation conditions by contacting the Marion County Probation office at 503-588-8492 or 503-541-8041. Any violation(s) of the probation conditions will need to be reported to the probation officer.
The courts will supervise defendants sentenced to court probation. They are not assigned a probation officer. The victim may contact the DDA assigned to the criminal case to find out the conditions of probation and to report any violation(s).
If a defendant is required to register as a Sex Offender, the victim has the right to access certain information about the offender. A form is sent in the mail to the victim with the disposition notice that lists sentencing information. If you do not receive a form, you may contact the Victim Assistance Division.