The Victim Assistance Program can help guide you through each stage of the criminal justice process. A Victim Advocate can accompany you to court proceedings for support, answer questions about the court process, assist you with Victim Compensation and refer you to other community resources. Please do not hesitate to call us if we can be of assistance.
Pensacola Main Office 850-595-4200
Pensacola Juvenile 850-595-3750
Pensacola – Gulf Coast Kids House 850-595-5800
Milton – Santa Rosa Kids House 850-983-4453
Defuniak Springs 850-892-8080
The Criminal Justice System
Law Enforcement can either arrest a person at the time of the crime or can present a sworn complaint to the State Attorney's Office with evidence. If there is 'probable cause' to believe that a crime occurred, the suspect is taken into custody and transported to the jail where they are fingerprinted and photographed.
Within 24 hours of the arrest, the suspect appears before a Judge (typically via closed circuit television). At this time the suspect is made aware of the charges and whether they qualify for a bond. The Judge will then determine if the subject is entitled to release from custody by either setting a monetary bond or ordering a supervised pre- trial release. The Judge will also order special conditions of the safety of the victim and the public.
An Assistant State Attorney will review the facts of the case and determine what charges, if any, will be filed against the suspect.
The victim may be subpoenaed or asked to come in for a meeting with our office during this stage.
Suspect is charged
There are two ways a suspect can be charged:
By Information: This is a formal charging document filed by the State Attorney's Office which sets forth the formal charges against a defendant.
By Indictment: Cases may also be presented to a Grand Jury comprised of eighteen residents of the county. A Grand Jury will hear evidence to determine what charges should be filed.
This is a hearing where the Defendant is informed of the charges and asked to enter a plea to those charges (Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest). Many Defendants will enter a plea of Not Guilty which allows them to have a defense attorney examine the evidence against them. The defendant may also file a written plea of not guilty before the arraignment and there will not be a formal hearing.
At any time after a Judge sets a bond, the defendant may request a hearing to ask the Judge to reduce the bond. The Judge will consider any previous criminal history, possible threat posed to the community or the victim, and whether the defendant can be trusted to return for future court appearances.
Victims have the right to speak to the Judge at this hearing.
Docket Day/Pre-Trial Conferences/Case Management
This is a case status conference between the attorneys for both sides and the Judge. It is a way for the Judge to keep track of the case and how it is moving along. It is normal for a case to have several Docket Days before a decision is made as to whether the defendant will plea. The defendant may or may not be present during these hearings. You may attend this or any hearing if you wish but please contact Victim Services if you plan to attend so that we can assist you.
Any witness, including the victim, may be subpoenaed to give a sworn statement under oath to the defense attorney as to their knowledge of the case. Depositions are usually taken in a small room, not the courtroom. An Assistant State Attorney is present as well as an official Court Reporter. The defendant is not present except under rare circumstances.
Victims have a right to have a Victim Advocate present with them during deposition. Contact a Victim Advocate when you receive a subpoena if you need assistance.
A defendant may change a plea of Not Guilty at any time. In most cases, the Assistant State Attorney and the Defense Attorney will discuss how to resolve a case without a trial. The Victim has a right to be kept abreast of these discussions and consulted regarding any plea offers. A defendant may plea to an agreed upon sentence or may enter an open plea to the court with no agreed upon sentence. Once a defendant enters a plea of Guilty or No Contest, there is not a trial and we proceed to sentencing.
If no agreement can be reached then the case will go to trial. The State is now required to present the case before a jury and prove 'beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt' that the defendant committed a crime. The defendant is not required to prove anything. Witnesses, including the victim are subpoenaed to testify and be cross examined by the opposing attorney. For many victims and witnesses, testifying at trial can be most stressful part of the court process. Your Victim Advocate and Prosecutor will work together to ensure you are supported, prepared and protected.
If the jury finds that the State has not proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt, they will find the defendant is not guilty. The defendant is free to go unless he/she has other charges pending.
If the jury finds that the State has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt, they will find the defendant guilty. The Judge will then set a sentencing date and often order a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report. The Judge will also decide whether the defendant should be taken into custody while awaiting sentencing.
You will receive a subpoena in the mail or you will be served by a Process Server or a Deputy Sheriff. Our trial subpoenas will subpoena you for an entire week, but most trials only take one day. It is important to stay in touch with the State Attorney's Office to determine the exact day of your trial and any last minute postponements.
Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSI)
This is a background check on the defendant compiled by the probation department to assist the Judge in sentencing. You may be contacted by a probation officer and asked questions about what you think about the case which will be included in the report.
Victims have the right to review this report excluding confidential information about the defendant or other victims.
The hearing when a Judge decides the type of punishment a defendant should receive for a crime. This may be a separate hearing or occur at the same time a defendant enters a plea of Guilty or No Contest. The defendant is sentenced according to state sentencing guidelines. Victims are permitted to give an oral or written Victim Impact Statement to the Judge describing how the crime has affected their life and what they would like to see happen.
The Victim Impact Statement can be a very powerful right for a victim. Contact a Victim Advocate for more information.
Juvenile Justice Process
The process of determining where a child under the age of 18 will be placed until the case is resolved. There are three forms of detention status: home, non-secure or secure.
This is an alternative to trial where the juvenile is placed in a community- based program such as juvenile arbitration, juvenile alternative services program (JASP), or a treatment plan (Walker plan). If a juvenile successfully completes the diversion program, then the charges are generally dismissed.
The filing of a petition in court by the State Attorney’s Office. The charge may be filed in either juvenile court or adult court, depending upon the crime and age of the offender.
The accused is formally charged and enters a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest.
The trial of the juvenile, conducted in front of a judge. The judge will decide whether the juvenile committed the charged offense(s).
Dispositional Hearing (Sentencing)
When a juvenile is found to have committed a delinquent act, the court will hold a dispositional hearing to determine which sanctions to impose on the juvenile. The sanctions could range from community-based sanctions like probation and community services up to residential commitment.
Juveniles Tried As Adults
Juveniles who commit very serious crimes may be tried as adults. Juveniles who are prosecuted as adults may be sentenced to adult or juvenile sanctions.