District Court Arraignment: The defendant is officially notified of the charges against him/her. The defendant is asked whether he/she pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges. The judge will set a date for a preliminary hearing, generally within two or three weeks. If the defendant is released on bond, ensuring his/her return to court, the terms of release may be discussed. It is not essential that the victim or witness be present for the arraignment.
Preliminary Hearing: In district court, a preliminary hearing is held to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed the crime. The prosecutor is required to present the evidence to the judge. He/she may do so by either requesting the arresting officer or the victim of the crimes to appear to testify. If the judge believes that there is sufficient evidence (probable cause), the case will be referred to the Grand Jury. If it is necessary for the victim or witness to testify, he or she will receive an official subpoena.
Grand Jury: The Grand Jury is a group of 12 individuals from the community. The Grand Jury typically hears evidence from the investigating officer, and if necessary, the victim or other witnesses. Hearings conducted by the Grand Jury are closed to the public. All evidence is presented by the prosecutor, and the Grand Jury determines whether or not there is enough evidence to return an indictment against the defendant. An indictment may result in a jury trial in Circuit Court. If it becomes necessary for the victims and/or witnesses to testify in front of the Grand Jury, they will be notified and receive a subpoena.
Circuit Court Arraignment: During the Circuit Court arraignment, the defendant appears in open court and is notified by the Circuit Judge of the charges contained in the indictment returned by the Grand Jury. He/she is asked again whether he/she pleads guilty or not guilty. If a not guilty plea is entered, the Circuit Judge sets a pre-trial conference and trial by jury date. It is not necessary for the victim or witness to be present for this court hearing.
Family Court: Family Court gives cases involving families and children the highest priority, which means they do not compete with criminal and civil cases for judicial time. Family Court is a division of Circuit Court, Kentucky’s highest trial court level, and employs full-time judges with the same qualifications as those who serve the other divisions of Circuit Court. Family Court jurisdiction is defined by KRS 23A.100 and 23A.110 and includes the following: dissolution of marriage, spousal support and equitable distribution, child custody, support and visitation, paternity, adoption, domestic violence, dependency, neglect and abuse, termination of parental rights, truancy and beyond control.
Pre-trial Conference: A pre-trial conference is a meeting between the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the defendant. At this meeting, the prosecutor generally advises the defendant and his/her attorney of the evidence he/she intends to present at trial. Plea negotiations may take place at this conference. The prosecutor will generally discuss the possibility of a plea negotiation with the victim prior to finalizing any agreement with the defendant and the attorney.
Plea Negotiation: This aspect of the criminal justice process allows speedy disposition of the cases without the necessity of a trial. Under a negotiated plea, a defendant will plead guilty to one or more of the charges, or an amended charge, and the prosecutor will recommend a penalty to the judge. According to Kentucky State law, victims are to be consulted before a plea offer is made to the defendant.
Guilty Plea: After hearing the evidence presented by the prosecutor at the pretrial conference, the defendant may chose to plead guilty, thereby avoiding the necessity of a jury trial. The prosecutor or advocate will notify the victim of the intention of the defendant to plead guilty, and the date that is set for the defendant to appear in open court to enter the plea. When the guilty plea is entered, the Circuit Judge will set a sentencing date. The defendant may be placed in custody pending the sentencing hearing or the judge may allow the defendant to remain out on bond. The presence of the victim or witness at the guilty plea is not necessary. The victim or witness will be notified of the final sentencing date.
Jury Trial: If it is determined that the case will be tried by a jury, the prosecutor and defense attorney will present evidence to 12 county residents who make up a petit jury. It is the duty of that jury to determine the guilt or innocence of a defendant. The jury is also responsible for recommending a penalty. The investigating officers, victims, and witnesses will be subpoenaed to appear in open court to testify before the jury. Prior to the trial, the victim should be contacted by the prosecutor to help prepare them for trial.
Sentencing: After the defendant has entered a plea or been found guilty by a jury, the Circuit Judge sets a final sentencing hearing. This hearing is usually held within 30 days. Prior to imposing a sentence, the judge will consider a Pre-Sentence Investigation and Victim Impact Statement. At the final sentencing hearing, the judge will impose a penalty and decide whether the defendant should be incarcerated or placed on probation.
Pre-Sentence Investigation: This is a document submitted by the Department of Probation and Parole. Its primary objective is to focus on the character and personality of the defendant. It includes information such as any prior criminal record and the personal history of the defendant. The Probation Officer conducting the investigation may make a recommendation concerning probation and/or incarceration.
Victim Impact Statement: This is a document submitted to the Circuit Judge by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, or the victim’s advocate, on behalf of the victim. It is usually prepared by the victims or with young children, by their caregiver, and contains, but is not limited to, a description of the nature and extent of any physical, psychological, or financial harm suffered by the victim as a result of the crime committed by the defendant. It is possible for affected family members to submit Victim Impact Statements. The Victim Impact Statement will also be submitted to the Parole Board if the defendant is committed to the penitentiary. A copy of the Victim Impact Statement is usually provided for the defendant.