Following the report
of child sexual abuse
, a prosecutor will be assigned to the case by the Office of the District Attorney. The prosecuting attorney's role is to represent the State in the criminal case, with the goal of protecting the community. The presumptive goal is to gain a conviction against the alleged offender
(defendant in the case). The prosecutor's interest and involvement is not the victim
, the child who was abused. The Victim Services Office collaborates with prosecutors regarding victim injuries and needs and assists and supports the victim in the case of a criminal Trial
. Law Enforcement
will provide initial evidence to the prosecutor, who will decide whether there is sufficient cause to move forward with a criminal case. The prosecutor will decide how the case is conducted and whether charges are filed or dismissed.
The prosecutor will direct the case through the criminal justice system. If determined that a probable cause exists, a formal charging instrument, the Information, will be issued, and prosecution continues. A warrant or arrest may occur at this time. An Arraignment is usually scheduled within 72 hours of the an arrest. However, an arrest may be postponed until the Indictment
. The prosecutor will authorize charges be made by the local police department
and issue a warrant for the offender's arrest.
Questions that are addressed during this initial court process:
- Did the alleged crime occur within the court's jurisdiction?
- Is there probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime?
If the judge determines that sufficient evidence was found to believe that the defendant committed the crime, it is said that the defendant is "held to answer," and a date is set for an Arraignment. A new pleading is filed with the court, sometimes called an "Information," and the defendant enters a plea at the arraignment date. If the court should find that there is no probable cause, typically the prosecution ceases continued legal proceedings against the defendant. However, many jurisdictions allow the prosecution to seek a new preliminary hearing or even seek a bill of indictment from a Grand Jury. Some jurisdictions have a grand jury which convenes to determine viability of cases to proceed through the criminal justice system. Prosecution will present evidence of probable cause and seek a "true bill of indictment" from the grand jury. The defendant is not usually allowed to have legal representation during a Grand Jury.
The prosecutor determines what charges will be filed against the offender, schedules a court hearing, gathers information from all relevant sources (victim's psychological, interview, and medical reports), and represents the State in prosecuting the offender in a criminal Trial. Some jurisdictions have a special unit assigned to child abuse cases. The assigned prosecutor or representatives of the special unit will attend a Preliminary Hearing for the defendant. The court will determine if sufficient evidence exists to justify the case proceeding to criminal Trial. The conduct of the Preliminary Hearing as well as the specific rules regarding the admissibility of evidence vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
An Early Resolution conference may be scheduled. Prosecutors meet with the defendant's attorney and attempt to negotiate a settlement. The formal investigation process has concluded, offender evaluations have been conducted, and documents shared between attorneys. Both sides of the case have a reasonable idea of the probability of winning or losing with a jury trial. The defendant may be more motivated at this point to accepting a plea bargain. The prosecuting attorney will communicate with the offender's (defendant in this case) attorney. A plea bargain may result, with the offender pleading guilty to lesser charges in order to receive lesser consequences for the crime.