Criminal Justice System Process Definitions

Arrest: When someone is charged with a crime by a law enforcement agency and taken into custody. This is normally the first stage in the criminal justice process; however, in some instances this may happen after an indictment is obtained.

Arraignment: The stage of the criminal justice process when the defendant is brought before the judge and is informed of the charges filed against him.

Dismissal: When a judge vacates the charges against a defendant. 

Not Guilty Plea: An assertion made by the defendant who denies the charges filed against him. 

Guilty Plea: An admission made by the defendant accepting responsibility for the charges filed against him.

Sentence: The punishment that is imposed upon a defendant who has been convicted.

Grand Jury: A  grand  jury is a body consisting of not less than sixteen nor more than  twenty-three  persons,  impaneled  by a superior court and constituting  a part of such court, the functions of which are to hear and examine evidence  concerning  criminal conduct and to take action with respect to such evidence.  The deliberations of a grand jury are strictly confidential.    

Indictment: An indictment is a written accusation by a grand jury, filed with a  superior court, charging a person, or two or more persons jointly, with the commission of  a crime, or with the commission of two or more  offenses at least one of which is a crime

Motion and Hearing: Motions are the method by which an attorney requests that a court issue an order, ruling, or other decision. If the court requires more facts before it can render a decision, a hearing is held in which testimony is given and arguments are made before the judge.

Trial: A formal evaluation of evidence which occurs before a court to determine if a defendant is guilty of the presented charges.

Not Guilty Verdict: When a judge or jury makes the determination that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the defendant is guilty of the beyond a reasonable doubt of the charges filed against him.

Guilty Verdict: When a judge or jury reaches the conclusion that the defendant has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the charges filed against him.

SCI (Superior Court Informations): Under New York State Law, all defendants charged with a felony are entitled to have their case reviewed by a Grand Jury consisting of 23 citizens before a prosecutor can go forward with a prosecution. However, defendants can waive that right and plead guilty to a Superior Court Information prior to going through the indictment process. For the defendant, the justification for pleading guilty to an SCI offer stems from his belief that the SCI offer is the best offer he is going to receive during the course of his prosecution.  For the prosecutor, there are several benefits. First and foremost, resolving the case quickly through the acceptance of an SCI plea minimizes the stress and trauma for crime victims. This is especially important in domestic abuse or child abuse cases. Additionally, resolving a case with a guilty plea minimizes the risk that an unforeseen event such as the disappearance of or change of heart by a key witness could take place that could degrade the quality of the case. There are also a variety of administrative benefits deriving from SCI pleas which are less appreciated by the public. One such benefit is that an SCI deal eliminates the time, energy and costs associated with processing a case through a Grand Jury. The result is a significant savings for the taxpayer. When an SCI deal is reached, it avoids the costs of preparing a case for a Grand Jury presentation and possible trial.  There are three advantages to this: first, the expedited process does not take up the valuable time of the citizens performing their civic duty by serving on a Grand Jury.  Second, the time and expense of having witnesses testify, especially law enforcement personnel, is eliminated. Finally, Court calendars are less burdened as a consequence of eliminating all the conferences, motions, hearings, etc. that are the inevitable result of a case being indicted by a Grand Jury.