If the defendant, his attorneys
, and the District Attorney have not negotiated a plea in the Early Resolution
conference (or Final Resolution conference if one took place), the case will brought to trial. The trial is held before a judge, and the victim's
testimony is required. The District Attorney will meet with you before the trial to discuss what will happen. The Victim Advocate
is available to support the victim throughout the trial, and, in cases of abuse, to assist in helping children prepare for the trial and feel as safe and comfortable as possible The Victim Advocate will be present in the court. The courtroom is open to the public. The defendant is present in the courtroom during the trial.
The defendant has a right to ask for the verdict to be decided by a Jury (a jury trial) or by the Judge (a bench trial). At the end of the trial, the Jury or Judge will:
- Find a verdict of guilty on all or some of the charges.
- Find a verdict of not guilty on all of the charges. This is called an acquittal; or
- In a jury trial, failure to reach a unanimous decision on a verdict is called a hung jury. When a hung jury is declared, the case may be retried; or
- Rarely, a Judge will declare a mistrial for some legal reason, and the case may be retried.
If your area has a Child Abuse Assessment Center, your child may have been interviewed by a specially trained team, and the interview may have been videotaped. This videotape, along with the testimony of the interviewer, is meant to reduce the child's revictimization by her having to face the offender in the courtroom. However, in the Washington vs. Crawford ruling in 2004, it was determined that the accused has a right to face the accuser, and children in abuse cases are not exempt. Regardless of the child's age, the child must now testify in court, with the abuser present, in order for the taped interview to be admissible as evidence. Crime victims who are over 3-years-old must testify in court, regardless of whether the crime is sexual in nature. Prior to the Crawford ruling, videotaped interviews were admissible, and children were not required to be present in court proceedings. Prosecutors report that the Crawford ruling "ties our hands."
The Crawford ruling hampers the prosecution and conviction of sex offenders in all states. Many times mothers do not want to put the child through the ordeal of testifying in court with the abuser present. Believing it to be a traumatizing event for the child, mothers are concerned for the well-being of their children and aren't prepared to "force their child to confront their abuser in public." This is a difficult issue for mothers to deal with. In deciding to protect the child from testifying in court, however, mothers prevent the legal system from moving forward in prosecuting and convicting offenders. This is obviously not the mother's fault, because she is doing her best to protect her child. However, this law is not the best interests of children, and mothers need to advocate for change in the legal system.
If the mother decides to allow the child to testify in court, the child will have difficulty facing the perpetrator. The Victim Advocate and the staff at the Child Abuse Assessment Center may be helpful in preparing the child for the trial. If the child is in therapy, the therapist can work with the child in helping him or her prepare for the presence of the perpetrator in court. It is also probable that the therapist will be called as a witness for the prosecution.
The trial begins with opening statements by both attorneys, outlining the case for the Jury or Judge. Next, prosecution witnesses are called to testify. Victims are witnesses for the prosecution. After the District Attorney questions the victim (direct examination), the defense attorney will question the victim (cross examination). When the victim is testifying, other witnesses are not allowed to be in the courtroom. After victims testify, they are not required to remain in the courtroom. Victims will be notified by the District Attorney when a verdict is rendered.
After the prosecution witnesses have testified, defense witnesses are called to testify. Closing statements are then given by both attorneys.If it is a jury trial, the Judge will instruct the Jury on the charges in the case before them. The Jury must reach a unanimous decision on each charge against the defendant - a verdict of guilty or not guilty. Case law applies to the sentencing. The jury will come back with a verdict, and the judge makes the decision regarding an appropriate sentence. Victims can submit Victim Impact Statements. These are read by the Judge and to the court. Victim Impact Statements can be strongly persuasive during the sentencing process.