Basic Legal Concepts of the Criminal Justice System
The following rights and privileges are guaranteed to those accused of a crime by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights:
- The defendant is innocent until proven guilty. This concept is the foundation of the criminal justice system and influences every other legal principle.
- The right to a trial by jury. The sixth amendment to the Constitution guarantees that “in all criminal proceedings, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.”
- The defendant’s right to counsel. The right to an attorney is an inherent right of the defendant’s, and the State must provide counsel if the defendant cannot secure his own.
- Burden of Proof: The State has the burden of proving the defendant is guilty and must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime charged. The defendant does not have to prove his or her innocence.
- Confrontation of Witnesses. The sixth amendment also guarantees that the accused has the right to confront the witnesses against him. The defendant also has the right to cross examine any witnesses who testify on behalf of the State. For this reason, the defendant will always be present in the courtroom, while all other witnesses are present only for their own testimony and closing arguments.
- The defendant does not have to testify. The fact that a defendant chooses not to testify cannot be considered as a factor when guilt or innocence is determined. The full burden of proof lies with the State, and it must supply the evidence.
The prosecutor and the defendant, through his/her attorney, will frequently reach an agreement prior to trial just as in most civil cases. This agreement will then be presented to the judge. There are a number of reasons why this practice is necessary, but the policy of the prosecutor’s office is to consult with all the victims of violent crimes involving personal assault or injury before finalizing any negotiated plea agreement. It is extremely important to let the Crime Victims’ Office know any changes in address or phone number so that you may be contacted regarding important court dates.