YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE COURT PROCESS ALONE.
As a victim of sexual assault, you may choose whether or not to report the attack to the police, and whether or not to prosecute the assailant. Understand that the legal system exists to protect you and to ensure that justice is served.
The legal system can be confusing and frightening. The Rape Crisis Center has a victim advocate who will help you through the court system. This advocate is not an attorney but is available to provide information and support every step of the way.
You can reach the Rape Crisis Center advocate by calling 912-233-7273. Remember, you do not have to go through the court process alone.
The information that follows will help you to know what happens after an attack is reported to the police.
Think about every question. Answer only those questions which you understand and to which you have clear answers. Ask the police to explain anything you do not understand.
You have the right to read over everything in the police record. You may even write your own version to be added to the police report if you are not satisfied with their version.
Even if you don't want to prosecute, it's important to tell the police all the details of the assault. The information you provide may help police to determine a repeat rapist's pattern, which may help them capture a rapist, or target a high risk area for increased patrols.
During the course of the police investigation, you may be asked to look at pictures of possible suspects or to look at evidence. If a suspect is detained, you may be requested to identify him in a lineup.
The Criminal Justice System and Felony Cases
The crimes of rape, attempted rape, child molestation, and incest are classified as felony cases under Georgia law. A felony is a serious crime, usually punishable by prison for a period of more than one year. Most sexual assault cases involve the following steps through the criminal justice system:
A warrant is the document giving police the authority to arrest the accused and must be issued by a judge. Victims may be required to obtain a copy of the police report and go to the Chatham County Courthouse for a warrant.
Within 72 hours after the accused is arrested, he is arraigned meaning his bond is set and a preliminary hearing date is scheduled.
If the accused is able to pay bond (bail), he will be released from jail.
Usually within one month after the arraignment, the preliminary hearing is held. Witnesses (including the victim) are usually subpoenaed to appear at the preliminary hearing. At that time, the judge listens to the testimony to decide if there is probable cause for the case to go (get bound over) to a higher court. If the judge finds there is probable cause for the case to go to a higher court, then misdemeanors (less serious offenses) are sent to State Court, and felonies (more serious crimes) are sent to Superior Court.
After the preliminary hearing, the case is assigned to an Assistant District Attorney. The next event is a Grand Jury Hearing. This may be two months or more after the preliminary hearing depending on the county where the case is being prosecuted. At this time, twenty-three Grand Jurors hear testimony from any witness the Assistant District Attorney subpoenas to decide if there is enough evidence to indict (formally charge) the defendant. The hearing is conducted in private. Neither the defendant nor his attorney is present.
If the Grand Jury indicts the defendant, the next step is a calendar call. At this hearing, the defendant or his attorney appears before the judge and indicates whether he plans to plead “guilty” or ask for a jury trial. No witnesses need be subpoenaed to this hearing.
If the defendant chooses to plead, a pleas hearing is held. If the defendant pleads “guilty” to the charge, the judge may sentence him then or at a later date. Witnesses need not be subpoenaed to the plea hearing.
If the defendant plea “not guilty” and requests a jury trial, a pre-trial conference is usually the final hearing before the trial. At the pre-trial conference, the two attorneys appear before the judge and decide any legal questions (motions are filed, for example) and a tentative trial date is set.
A jury of twelve citizens listens to testimony and determines whether the defendant is “guilty” or “not guilty.” All 12 must agree the defendant is “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” for there to be a conviction. Witnesses are subpoenaed to jury trials. The judge may sentence immediately after conviction or may order a PSI (pre-sentencing investigation).
You Are a Witness
Legally as a victim of crime you are considered a witness for the state. You do not need to have a lawyer. The District Attorney’s office will handle the prosecution of your assailant. The Assistant District Attorney handling your case will answer any legal questions you may have once the case has been bound over to Superior Court. It is important for you to stay in close contact with the District Attorney’s office or the Rape Crisis Center advocate so that you are informed and know when your presence is needed. Be sure to contact them if you change your address and/or phone number so they will be able to get in touch with you when needed.
*Victim may be required to be present and testify at these steps.