Frequently Asked Questions
What is expected of me?
You are expected to report the crime against you or one you have witnessed to your local or state police. They will take your statement and file a complaint. An arrest warrant or a summons is then issued.
What happens after the suspect is arrested?
The person accused of the crime is called the Defendant. He/she will have to appear before the District Magistrate at a preliminary arraignment. This is for the purpose of setting bail, providing the Defendant with a copy of the charges, advising him/her of their right to a lawyer and setting the date for the preliminary hearing. Your appearance is not required at the preliminary arraignment.
What is the purpose of bail?
Bail is used to ensure the Defendant’s appear in Court. A District Magistrate will determine the amount of bail. Only a Judge can set bail in homicide cases.
What is a preliminary hearing?
The purpose of a preliminary hearing is not to determine guilt or innocence, but it’s a proceeding where the Commonwealth (i.e. District Attorney) must establish enough evidence that the accused (Defendant) has committed the crime to hold the case for trial. The Defendant will always be present at a preliminary hearing. An attorney may represent him. If you are called as a witness, the District Attorney or one of his/her Assistants (Prosecutor) will meet with you before the preliminary hearing and discuss your testimony. You will be questioned under oath by both the Prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney. If the District Magistrate determines enough evidence has been shown, the Defendant will be entitled to a trial. A Defendant has the right to waive or give up his preliminary hearing. In such a case, you will not have to testify at the preliminary hearing. You will receive notice when the case is scheduled for actual trial.
Do I need an attorney?
As the victim of a case, you do not need an attorney. The District Attorney or one of his/her assistants will handle the prosecution of the case. There are no legal fees involved. If you wish to file a civil case, however, you must hire your own attorney.
What if the Defendant or his friends threaten me?
This rarely happens. If anyone attempts to intimidate or harass you as the victim/witness of a case, the police should be notified immediately and the District Attorney’s Office should also be called. Criminal charges can be brought against anyone who threatens or harasses a victim or a witness. If the Defendant himself is involved, his/her bail may be revoked and he/she would be committed to jail.
What if the defense attorney contacts me about the case?
Do not talk to anyone about the case unless they show you proper identification. You are under no obligation to talk to the defendant’s attorney or anyone on his behalf. However, you may do so if you wish. It is also your right to speak with the defense attorney only in the presence of the District Attorney or one of his/her assistants. In all cases you should report any contacts from the defense attorney to the District Attorney’s Office.
What if I move before during the case?
The Crime Victims Program should be notified of any changes in your address or phone number. These changes should also be updated if you are enrolled in PA SAVIN or with any other provider of services having to do with your case.
What happens before trial?
There are some things that can occur between the Arraignment and a trial such as a plea, a pre-trial diversionary program, etc. It is the responsibility of the District Attorney or Assistant to explain this to you.
In the event your case is going to trial, the Crime Victims Program will notify you as to the date of the trial. You may be asked to meet with the District Attorney or Assistant before that time. Because of their caseload, it may be difficult to pinpoint an exact time at which your trial will begin. You will be given as much advance notice as possible; however, and the District Attorney’s Office will try to minimize your having to wait long for your case to start.
What happens on the day of the trial?
Four things can happen to a case on the day of the trial.
- The trial will be held and your testimony will be required.
- The Defendant may plead guilty, making a trial and your testimony unnecessary.
- The case may be continued or postponed to another day for a valid reason.
- The Defendant may fail to appear, and a bench warrant will be issued for his/her arrest. Once he/she is apprehended, a new trial date will be scheduled.
Please allow yourself enough time to get to the court house and for parking. Upon arrival, please check in at the Crime Victims Program office and we will assist you in getting to where you need to go.
What can I expect during trial?
The District Attorney or Assistant has the burden of proving the Defendant’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are called as a witness, you will be placed under oath to swear to tell the truth. The District Attorney will question you first. This is called direct examination. After this is completed, the defendant’s lawyer has the right to ask you questions. This is called cross examination.
Who is permitted in the courtroom?
Children should not be brought into the court unless they are there to testify and have been requested to be brought. Friends and family members of victim/witness may be present in the courtroom, as long as they themselves have not been called to testify.
When will the Defendant be sentenced?
If the defendant is found guilty, the Judge will set a date and time for sentencing. The Adult Probation Office will then prepare a pre-sentence report to aid the Judge. If you are the victim of a crime, you have the right to appear at the Defendant’s sentencing and address the Court. If you are uncomfortable doing this, you may also put any remarks you would like to in writing. This is called a Victim Impact Statement. It allows you to tell the Judge how the crime has affected you physically, emotionally and financially. You can explain any long-term effects the crime will have on you and/or your family. The Court is interested in what you have to say, and the Judge will take this statement into consideration at the time of sentencing. The Crime Victims Program can help you to prepare this statement, which should be done in a timely manner so as to make sure it is included in the pre-sentence report.
Will I be compensated for the losses I have suffered due to this crime?
The victim should first check with their insurance company. The policy may provide coverage for medical bills or property damage caused by a crime. As part of the sentence, the Judge may order the Defendant to make Restitution to you for damages caused by the criminal activities of the Defendant. Restitution can be ordered for medical bills and property damage. The victim should include copies of any bills when completing the restitution form. The Crime Victims Program can help with this. In cases of personal injury crime, the victim may also be eligible for assistance from the Pennsylvania Crime Victims’ Compensation Program. This agency can pay for medical expenses, counseling, loss of earnings, loss of support, funeral expenses, stolen benefit cash and emergency cash awards. To be eligible for Crime Victims Compensation, the victim must report the crime within 72 hours (with certain exceptions) and cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies. A claim must be filed within two years from the date of the crime. The Crime Victims Program can provide you with a claim form and help to complete this paperwork or you can go online to file a claim.
How long can this whole process take?
If a Defendant is out on bail, the Commonwealth has 365 days to bring this case to trial.