riminal court proceedings can be In criminal cases each side is represented by an Conviction: A final determination that the defendant
unfamiliar and intimidating. Some people attorney. Deputy district attorneys, who represent the committed the crime(s) as charged. A conviction
have never been inside a courtroom and People of the State of California, prosecute criminal occurs when a judge or jury finds the defendant guilty
Navigating don’t know what to expect. cases. A defendant has a constitutional right to be or when the defendant pleads guilty or no contest.
This pamphlet is intended to explain the criminal represented by an attorney. If a defendant cannot
the Criminal justice process as it applies to adults and juveniles afford an attorney, one will be appointed by a judge.
Felony: A serious crime that can be punishable by
a state prison sentence or the death penalty. Some
charged as adults and acquaint readers with common Under certain circumstances, a defendant may
Justice System terms. It also explains some services and rights represent himself/herself.
felonies are “wobblers” and may be charged as
available to crime victims. Once a felony complaint is filed, the case is
In the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s presented to a judge at a preliminary hearing or to a Grand Jury: A 23-member panel of citizens
Office, our primary mission is to prosecute criminals, grand jury to determine if there is sufficient evidence empowered to hear evidence presented by the
and the cooperation of victims and witnesses is to proceed toward trial. prosecution and issue indictments, which are
critical to achieving justice. If the defendant pleads guilty or is convicted at documents charging one or more persons with
To that end, the District Attorney’s Victim- trial, he/she will be sentenced by a judge to prison, committing one or more crimes.
Witness Assistance Program helps victims and jail, probation or other conditions of punishment. Misdemeanor: A crime that is punishable by no
witnesses as they take part in the process. If the defendant is acquitted at trial, he/she will more than one year in county jail or generally a
We hope this pamphlet helps victims, witnesses go free. $1,000 fine.
and members of the public better understand how Motion: A written or verbal request by an attorney
the criminal justice system works. Key Legal Terms asking a judge to make a legal ruling in a case.
To learn more about the District Attorney’s
Opening Statement: Before any testimony or
Office and its programs, visit our website at
Acquittal: A final determination by a judge or jury evidence is presented at trial, the prosecutor and
that the prosecution did not prove the defendant was defense lawyer each makes a statement outlining
guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. evidence he/she expects to present.
Arraignment: A court proceeding at which a Plea: A defendant’s answer to the charge(s) against
Steve Cooley defendant is brought before a judge, informed of the him/ her. A defendant may plead not guilty, guilty or
District Attorney charge(s) against him/her, and a plea – usually not no contest.
Los Angeles County guilty – is entered. Preliminary Hearing: A court proceeding in felony
Closing Argument: After all testimony and cases at which the prosecution must present evidence
evidence has been presented at trial, the prosecutor to support the charge(s) filed against a defendant. A
The Process and defense lawyer each makes a final statement judge decides if the evidence is sufficient and if the
summarizing his/her case. case should proceed toward trial.
Law enforcement personnel investigate crimes Complaint: A document filed by the prosecution Presumption of Innocence: A principle of criminal
and, if sufficient evidence is found, make arrests. But accusing one or more persons of committing one or law that requires prosecutors to prove the guilt of a
an arrest is just the first step in the criminal justice more crimes. criminal defendant and eliminates any burden the
process. Continuance: A delay in court proceedings ordered defendant has to prove his/her innocence.
After an arrest, prosecutors determine if there by a judge for a variety of reasons. Reasonable Doubt: A standard of proof that must be
is sufficient evidence to file charges. If such evidence surpassed to find a defendant guilty of a crime; a doubt
Los Angeles County exists, a criminal complaint is filed in court. based on reason and common sense after careful and
District Attorney’s Office impartial consideration of all the evidence.
Restitution: Money paid to a victim who suffered n Do not talk near a member of the jury or attempt to
financial losses such as stolen property, medical bills talk to or communicate with a member of the jury. Victim Assistance Victim Impact Statement
and funeral expenses resulting from a crime. n When the verdict is being read, refrain from any
verbal outbursts or other disruptive reactions. The District Attorney’s Victim-Witness Assistance At a defendant’s sentencing, the victim has the
Sentencing: A court proceeding at which a judge sets a right to make a statement explaining how the crime
The judge may exclude from the courtroom Program is available in courthouses and police stations
convict’s punishment, which can include a prison, jail or affected him/her and his/her family and friends. If the
persons who cause a disturbance or do not follow court throughout the county to assist crime victims who
probation term or other conditions. victim is unable or reluctant to speak in court, he/she
decorum. suffered injury or were threatened with injury.
Subpoena: A legally binding summons to appear in Victims and their families and friends must avoid Victim services representatives provide assistance may have someone else read the statement or may
court. confrontations with a defendant’s family and must not and resources to victims to help keep them safe submit a recorded or written statement to the judge.
Testimony: Any statement made, or answer given, by communicate with a defendant. and counseling referrals to address the trauma of
a witness who is under oath in court. Witnesses may Promptly notify police and court officials if any victimization. Restitution
encounter two forms of questioning when they testify: threats, intimidating behavior or attempts to dissuade a In addition to helping victims obtain restitution,
Direct Examination is the initial questioning of victim or his/her family from taking part in proceedings victim services representatives provide crisis- Victims are entitled to have the sentencing judge
a witness by the attorney who called that person to occur. intervention services and necessary referrals to crime order the convicted defendant to pay for financial
testify. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers may call In criminal homicide cases, graphic photos of the victims and their families; assist in requesting protective losses stemming from the crime. Victims should give
witnesses. victim may be presented as evidence. Certain family orders; guide crime victims through the court process; information about the loss, including the dollar amount,
Cross-Examination is the questioning of a witness members may consider leaving the courtroom before help arrange emergency shelter, food and clothing; and to prosecutors, probation officials and Victim-Witness
by the opposing lawyer who did not call that person the presentation of this evidence. assist in filing for compensation through the California Assistance Program staff. Receipts and other supporting
to testify. Cross-examination is intended to clarify or Victim Compensation Program. documents proving losses should be kept and made
discredit testimony given during direct examination. Testifying in Court Victims of violence or threats of violence with available for a restitution hearing that the judge may
police reports on file may be eligible to receive order.
Verdict: The jury’s final unanimous decision
A witness called to testify by either the prosecutor compensation for qualifying losses and expenses related If the convicted defendant has declared
determining if a defendant is guilty or not guilty. If
or the defense attorney should: to the crime such as loss of wages and relocation, bankruptcy, he/she still must pay restitution. A convict
jurors cannot reach a unanimous verdict, a judge will
medical and counseling expenses. sentenced to prison will have restitution deducted from
declare a mistrial and the defendant may face a new n Always tell the truth.
Staff members are available to assist victims in his/her prison account and wages.
trial before a new jury. n Listen carefully and answer only the question
asked; answer “yes” or “no” if the question calls for it; Notice of Parole
Attending Court and not volunteer additional information.
Proceedings n Ask that the question be repeated if it is confusing or A victim has the right to be informed of all parole
not understood; and not guess if he/she does not know hearings and to provide information for consideration
the answer. before a decision is made to release the convict.
Victims, their family and friends and members of Los Angeles County
n Be patient and courteous answering attorneys’ District Attorney’s A victim also has the right to be informed of any
the public may attend court proceedings to watch legal questions – both attorneys are allowed to question
arguments, testimony and court rulings. To comply with witnesses.
Victim-Witness change in the convict’s status, such as release upon
court etiquette please: Assistance Program completion of sentence, escape or death.
n Ask to review his/her prior statements related to the To assure notification, a victim should complete the
n Dress neatly. case – such as statements to police – before taking the 1-800-380-3811 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
n Do not wear or display any buttons or other items stand; be prepared to answer questions about them. http://da.lacounty.gov/vwap (CDCR) Request for Victim Services Form 1707 and
identifying the victim. n Wait until the judge tells him/her to answer the always keep the CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor
n Leave drinks, food and gum outside the courtroom. question when an attorney objects to a question. Rights and Services informed of his/her current
n Stand when instructed to do so by the bailiff or n Speak loudly and clearly. address. To obtain the form and filing instructions call
judge. n Dress neatly. 1-877-256-6877 or visit www.cdcr.ca.gov/victim_
n Refrain from talking inside the courtroom.