What to Expect in Court

What to Expect in Court

 HOMICIDE - TIPS FOR GOING TO COURT

Law enforcement & district attorney's role?

Homicide

What ARE MY RIGHTS IN COURT?

Crime Victims' Rights

I need Help understanding court

Surviving Violent Crime
Handbook

Tips

OBSERVE PROCEEDINGS

Tips

TESTIFYING

Tips

LEGAL PROCESS 

Tips

LEARN LEGAL TERMS

Law enforcement & district attorney's role?

Homicide

What ARE MY RIGHTS IN COURT?

Crime Victims' Rights

I need Help understanding court

Surviving Violent Crime
Handbook

Tips

OBSERVE PROCEEDINGS

Tips

TESTIFYING

Tips

LEGAL PROCESS 

Tips

LEARN LEGAL TERMS

 

What to Expect in Court?

Homicide is the most serious crime a person can commit.  Due to the seriousness of homicide, it can take a least a year, most likely longer, before a court trial is scheduled.  This process can be frustrating for homicide survivors/co-victims. 

Before the trial can begin, processes and procedures must be followed, and motions must be filed & heard.  The offender (or referred to as the defendant at this stage) has rights as required by the U.S. Constitution.  The overarching reason for defendant rights is to guarantee fair proceedings when people are threatened by loss of life, liberty, and the property of the government.  While this can be extremely frustrating for a survivor/co-victim, it is necessary.

 

What to Expect from Law Enforcement?

 

Going through a homicide investigation is a daunting and frustrating time for homicide survivors — especially in obtaining information.

 

Here are some common challenges that loved ones might experience with law enforcement and the reasons behind law enforcement actions:

  • The investigator is not communicating with me —  As Investigators search for the person(s) responsible for your loved one’s death, they follow policies and procedures that limit the information they can share in the investigation.

  • Progress is painfully slow — Evidence must be obtained legally to prosecute the crime successfully, making the legal processes slow.  Due to various factors, evidence processing and testing can take months or years.

  • The Investigator is unfeeling towards my family and me — Law enforcement must remain objective which can come across as cold.  Investigators cannot afford to become emotional in their job capacity.  

  • The police won’t share the reports with me, and I want to read them — All police reports, photos, and documents are considered evidence and cannot be shared. However, homicide survivors have the right to an incident report number. The number can be referenced when contacting the assigned investigator.

  • My loved ones had personal property on them when they were killed, and I can’t get it back — These items are considered evidence and the state follows laws to preserve them.  They may never be returned to homicide survivors.

 

Victims do have rights with Law Enforcement and as a victim of crime.  Please contact NCVAN and speak to a victim advocate to help navigate the criminal justice system. 

 

*Investigator and detectives are often used interchangeably.  Different agencies can have different titles for sworn officers assigned to their specified duties.  

 

What to Expect from the District Attorney?

In the State of North Carolina, those responsible for ensuring your loved one’s death is held accountable by the law and punished by the state are called District Attorney (DA) or Prosecutor.*  A Prosecutor is not your attorney — they are working for the State of North Carolina. However, you have the right to hire an attorney to safeguard your rights in court.  In addition, you have a right to an interpreter provided by the court if you have limited English proficiency.

If a police officer arrests a suspect, the District Office assigned to your case should contact you to discuss prosecution. For example, the DA’s office may send one of their “Victim Witness Coordinator” or “Victim Advocate” to serve as a liaison to communicate with you. Or, the District Attorney (DA) or Assistant District Attorney (ADA) may contact you directly. Each office may proceed differently; however, they have the same goal of a successful prosecution. To find your District Attorney, visit the NC Conference of District Attorneys

Just as working with law enforcement can be overwhelming, it can be challenging to understand the legal process.  Please reach out to NCVAN for an advocate to accompany you in court or explain the legal process.

* Prosecutor and District Attorney are interchangeable.

 

Tips for Observing Proceedings

The Victim/Witness Legal Assistant in the District Attorney’s office prosecuting your case can help prepare you for the courtroom. The following are some general guidelines that you may find helpful in the courtroom:

  • Maintain a serious and dignified manner in and around the courthouse and throughout the trial. Dress appropriately.

  • Do not discuss the case in the halls, restrooms, or anywhere that an ally of the defense or a juror may overhear. Most district attorney’s offices have a special waiting area for victims and witnesses. Check with the Victim/Witness Legal Assistant for location and information.

  • Never speak to a judge or juror unless you are in the courtroom and testifying under oath – or unless the judge specifically asks you a question in the courtroom. If you contact a judge or juror in the hall, elevator, or during a recess or lunch break, do not speak to them.

  • You may see the defendant, for the first time since the crime, in the courtroom. Try to prepare yourself for the emotional impact of this encounter. It may upset you to hear the defendant say “not guilty.” Sometimes these are the first words that victims have heard the defendant speak.

  • Prepare yourself to hear upsetting and graphic testimony.

  • If you are the family or loved one of someone who was murdered, you may hear horrifying details of the crime for the first time. Ask the District Attorney to fully review the details of your loved one’s death before the trial.

  • If you find yourself becoming extremely upset during the trial, quietly leave the courtroom.

  • If you have any questions or concerns during the trial, write them down and give them to the district attorney or Victim/Witness Legal Assistant. Don’t interrupt or whisper during the trial.

  • If the press is covering the trial, you may be approached and questioned by reporters. It would be best if you refrained from answering any questions or making any comments until after the trial is over. Be polite and refer them to the District Attorney.

  • Prepare yourself to hear the verdict, which could be a highly emotional time for you and your family.

 

Tips for Testifying Victims/Survivors

The Victim/Witness Legal Assistant in the District Attorney’s office prosecuting your case can help prepare you for the courtroom. The following are some helpful tips to remember when testifying at any court proceeding:

  • Neat appearance and proper dress are important.

  • Before testifying, try to recall the crime scene, what was there, and exactly what happened the best you can, don’t try to memorize what you are going to say.

  • Always tell the truth. If you do not know the answer to a question, say, “I don’t know.” Do not guess.

  • Listen very carefully to each question, making sure you understand completely before answering. If you do not understand a question, ask for it to be repeated or rephrased.

  • Speak clearly and loudly enough so that the judge and jury can hear you. Be polite, firm, and clear in your answers.

  • Answer only the questions asked and then stop. Don’t provide information unless you are specifically asked.

  • If the questions you are asked require a “yes” or “no” answer, answer “yes” or “no” unless your answer cannot be fully understood without an explanation. You may ask the judge if you can explain your answer or elaborate.

  • Stop talking if an objection is made by one of the attorneys or if the judge interrupts. The judge or one of the attorneys will tell you if you can continue your testimony. If you have forgotten the question, ask to have it repeated.

  • Although you may feel nervous and frightened by testifying, it is important to be serious and focused in your approach.

  • If you become upset while testifying, pause until you can regain your composure or ask the judge if you can have a few moments. The judge may call a recess to allow you this time. You may want to ask for a drink of water.

  • If you are asked if you have talked with anyone about the case, answer truthfully. You have probably spoken with the police, the district attorney, family, and friends. If you say only “yes” in response to the question, the defense attorney may imply that you have been told what to say. It is best to tell whom you have spoken with and that you only have discussed the facts of the case.

The Legal Process - Criminal Justice Flowchart

 
 
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