The Criminal Justice Process in Vermont
1. Investigating the crime:
After the crime has been reported, the police will begin an investigation, which can include the collection of evidence. You may be contacted by an officer as part of the investigation. The investigation may take several weeks or longer. Next, the State’s Attorney will decide whether there is enough evidence to prosecute the case. It is not up to you, as the victim of a crime, to press or drop charges. Only the State’s Attorney has the authority to charge someone with a crime. A case may be prosecuted by the State’s Attorney even if you don't want the prosecution to continue. Only a judge or State’s Attorney can dismiss the charge.
2. Arrest of the suspect:
Once the police have collected enough evidence, the suspect is either given a notice to appear in court for arraignment without being arrested, or is arrested and lodged at a correctional facility until the time of arraignment.
3. Lodging of the suspect:
In a few cases, the suspect is lodged at a correctional facility, at which time the judge or court clerk determines the conditions of release or bail until the time of arraignment. The arresting officer will help you complete a Request for Release Notification Form so you will be notified if the suspect posts bail.
A hearing is held in district court, at which the accused is informed of criminal charges and enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. This is a public hearing and anyone can be present. If you are a victim of a listed crime, you have the right to be notified of the date of the arraignment. Defendants released from court prior to resolution of the case may be given “conditions of release” by the judge. You may request that these conditions include that the defendant has no contact with you. The Victim Advocate can inform you of your offender's conditions of release.
5. Pretrial Process:
- Plea negotiation: After the arraignment, the State’s Attorney and the defense attorney may enter into a plea agreement in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to the original or a reduced charge. You have the right to be informed of the plea agreement, but you do not have the right to be present at any plea negotiation sessions. You may have an opportunity to state your position to the court, but you do NOT have the right to refuse to accept a plea agreement. Plea agreements can happen at any time in the court process. If you would like to have input into the terms of the agreement, it is important for you to complete a victim impact statement and communicate with the Victim Advocate or the State’s Attorney.
- Depositions: In felony cases, the defendant’s attorney has the opportunity to question witnesses under oath. This usually occurs at the prosecutor’s office and is usually tape-recorded. You have the right to have your own attorney (at your expense) and the Victim Advocate present. The defendant may not be present without your agreement, unless the judge orders it. (If the court decides that he/she must be present, you have the right to special protections.)
If the case goes to trial, you and the other witnesses may be subpoenaed to testify before a judge or jury, who will decide whether there is enough evidence to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You will be asked to tell what happened before the judge or jury. The prosecutor and advocate will assist you in preparing for the trial. You may want to have a friend or other support person accompany you. You can also ask that the Victim Advocate be available to you during the trial.
If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty after the trial, the judge will schedule a sentencing. You may be present at the sentencing and you have the right to make a Victim Impact Statement describing the physical, emotional, and financial impact the crime has had upon you and your family. You, a family member, or the Victim Advocate may read this to the court at the time of sentencing.
Department of Corrections Crime Victim Services Program
This program was established in January, 1999 to provide information, assistance, and support to victims of crime whose offenders are under the supervision of the Department. The mission of the Crime Victim Services program is to provide opportunities for crime victims to participate fully in the justice process through effective, supportive, and informative advocacy. The Crime Victim Services Program will provide crisis intervention, community referrals, and assistance with concerns related to offenders under the Department’s jurisdiction; information regarding the status of an offender under the Department’s supervision; community education regarding policies and procedures of the Department; and referrals to appropriate federal, state, or local community resources, including victim service agencies. For more information about the Vermont Department of Corrections and the Crime Victim Services program, contact the Director of Victim Services at 802-241-2302.
Restorative justice is a problem-solving approach to crime, in which the victim, the offender and the community deal with the consequences of an offense. Restorative justice views the crime as an act against another individual or the community, rather than an act against the State, and it focuses on the offender’s obligation to repair the harm. Vermont’s current restorative justice initiatives include the Department of Corrections’ Reparative Probation Program; Social and Rehabilitation Services’ Juvenile Restorative Justice Panels; and Community Justice Centers. To find out more about restorative justice in your community, call your local law enforcement agency.
Court Diversion is a voluntary, confidential alternative to the formal court process for certain juvenile and adult offenders. Cases are referred on an individual basis by the State’s Attorney . Some of its goals are to see that victims have input into the offender’s contract and receive appropriate restitution for their losses. Victims are asked about their losses, how they were affected by the offense, and what they feel the offender should do to make amends and help prevent re-offense. Once the State’s Attorney’s Office refers a case to the Diversion Program, the victim is contacted for his/her input. After a contract is successfully completed, the case is dismissed, resulting in a clean criminal record. For more information, contact the Court Diversion Office at 802-388-8888.