Most reported crimes are investigated by the local police, the county sheriff or the highway patrol. Investigation may include interviewing victims, witnesses, suspects; collecting physical evidence; photographing and measuring the crime scene. Witnesses may need to identify suspects by way of live or photo line-ups.
A few types of crime (such as criminal non-support, public health-related crimes and consumer or welfare fraud) may be investigated by other agencies.
If the police have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed, they may arrest the suspect immediately. He may be released on a bond immediately after booking; or he may be held up to twenty-four hours while charges are filed and an arrest warrant is issued by a judge.
Sometimes the police will postpone an arrest and ask the prosecuting attorney to review the case first.
Police reports and witness statements are sent to the Prosecuting Attorney who makes the decision whether to file a charge, and, if so, what the charge should be.
The Prosecuting Attorney thoroughly reviews all evidence in the case, as well as the suspect's prior criminal record. Occasionally, the reviewing Prosecutor sends the case back to the police to conduct additional investigation.
Criminal charges are not filed by the police, nor are they filed by victims of crime.
Misdemeanors are punishable by fines and up to a year in jail. Felonies are crimes punishable by a year or more in the Department of Corrections.
In felony cases, the prosecutor--instead of filing a criminal Complaint directly--will present the evidence before the grand jury. The grand jury meets in secret; and they decide whether there is probable cause to charge the accused. A criminal charge brought by the grand jury is called an indictment.
If the defendant fails to appear in court, his bond is forfeited. If the bondsman stands to lose the money, he may hire a bounty hunter to track down and return the fugitive defendant to the county sheriff.
Misdemeanor cases are set for trial fairly quickly. In felony cases a preliminary hearing is first held to determine if there is probable cause to believe that a felony has been committed and that the defendant is the person who committed it.
At the preliminary hearing witnesses are called to testify and the state must present sufficient evidence to convince the court that probable cause exists to show that a felony has been committed and that the defendant is the person who committed it.
If probable cause is not shown, the case is dismissed. In most cases, however, probable cause is shown and the defendant is ordered to answer the charges in the circuit court where the case is then set for a jury trial. In many cases a grand jury is convened before a preliminary hearing can be held. If the grand jury issues an indictment, the defendant will not be given a preliminary hearing and will go on to the circuit court.
DISCOVERY: Before trial the state must provide the defendant with all the evidence that it will use at trial and any evidence that may be favorable to the defendant. The defendant must also let the state know who its witnesses will be.
DEPOSITIONS: A deposition is the recorded testimony of a witness, given under oath in the presence of the defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney (and occasionally the defendant). The parties sometimes require the deposition of witnesses to discover new evidence and to determine, test, or preserve the testimony of a witness.
MOTIONS: Either side may ask the court to rule on certain issues before trial and there may need to be hearings with evidence presented. If evidence has been unlawfully obtained, the defendant can file a motion to have it kept out of any trial. If successful on such a motion, the jury will not be permitted to hear such evidence.
A trial may be heard by a judge (called a "bench trial") or by a jury. In a bench trial the judge decides all issues involving both the law and the facts.
In a jury trial the judge rules on the law, but the jury decides factual issues and declares the defendant GUILTY or not-GUILTY. Go here for more details about jury trials.
The state legislature has set the minimum and maximum punishment for each crime. The prosecuting attorney neither sets the fines, nor does he sentence the defendant to jail. The prosecutor only recommends a punishment. The defendant can agree or he may argue to the judge or jury for a different punishment.
In a jury trial, the defendant has the right to be sentenced by a jury, unless the defendant is a prior offender in which case the judge sentences the defendant. The judge may lower the sentence of the jury or may place the defendant on probation.
Where the judge sentences a defendant, he will consider the crime itself, the prior criminal record of the defendant and other related circumstances.
The defendant may be sentenced to jail or prison or placed on probation. He may be ordered to make restitution and pay court costs and fines.