Criminal Case Process
When a crime is reported, the police are responsible for conducting an investigation. A suspect may be arrested or issued a citation in lieu of arrest. After completing their investigation, the police submit their reports to the District Attorney's Office. A prosecuting attorney reviews the case and decides whether to charge an individual or individuals with a crime. Police officers may also submit an incident report, with no arrest or citation, for review. The District Attorney's Office does not have investigators on staff who can investigate cases. If you believe that a crime has been committed, please contact your Sheriff's Office or local police agency to report the crime. They will investigate the case and will refer it to the DA's Office for review.
When a person is arrested and taken to jail, they may remain in jail until their arraignment or may be released. If released, the defendant must sign a release agreement. The conditions of the release agreement include appearing in court as ordered, not leaving the state without the permission of the court, and not having any contact (direct or indirect) with the victim of the crime. The release agreement is in effect until the court case is concluded. If the defendant contacts the victim while the case is pending, the contact should be reported to the police. You may call the court's Release Officers at (503) 846-6362 for further information.
Filing Criminal Charges
A criminal case begins when the District Attorney's Office, on behalf of the State of Oregon, files a charging document (complaint, information or indictment) against the defendant.
A crime is a felony if the maximum penalty includes a sentence of more than one year of incarceration. Felonies include possession, manufacturing and delivery of drugs; robbery; burglary; theft in the first degree; identity theft, assault in the first degree/second degree/third degree; and most sexual assault crimes.
A crime is a misdemeanor if the defendant cannot be ordered to serve more than one year in jail. Common misdemeanors include most assault in the fourth degree cases; harassment; menacing; theft in the second degree/third degree, criminal trespass and most DUII cases.
The arraignment is the first court appearance after a defendant is arrested or issued a citation. Prior to arraignment, a Deputy DA is prohibited from speaking to a defendant regarding the resolution of a case. At the arraignment, the defendant is formally advised of the criminal charges filed. The charges filed after review by a Deputy DA may be different than those charged by the police. If defendants meet certain criteria, the judge may have an attorney appointed to represent them at arraignment. In misdemeanor cases, a plea may be entered at the time of arraignment. In most felony cases, a plea may not be entered until after the preliminary hearing or grand jury takes place. Felony cases allowed into our Early Case Resolution (ECR) Program are the exception. If a person commits one of these crimes, a plea offer may be presented at arraignment and the case could be resolved.
At a preliminary hearing, the State must present evidence to the court to show that a felony has been committed and that the State has sufficient evidence to prosecute the defendant for the offense. A defendant may waive his right to this hearing and proceed to the next step in the prosecution. Depending on the charges filed and other considerations, a person charged with a felony may receive a preliminary hearing or may have his case presented to the Grand Jury.
The grand jury is a group of seven citizens selected from the jury pool to hear evidence on crimes committed in Washington County. They determine whether the State has sufficient evidence to prosecute the defendant for the offense. Read more about Grand Jury.
Entering a Plea
If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, a trial date will be set. It may be several months before a trial takes place, and the trial may be reset (postponed) more than once. If the case goes to trial, victims and witnesses will be subpoenaed to testify. If you have been subpoenaed to testify and would like to know more about the process and what to expect, see our Witness brochure . If the defendant enters a guilty plea or a no contest plea, the defendant may be sentenced at the time of the plea, or the sentencing may be scheduled for a later date if the victims have requested to be present.
In many cases the District Attorney and defense attorney will discuss the case to determine whether or not the case can be appropriately resolved through negotiations. Negotiations are based on the facts of the case, the defendant's criminal history, input from a variety of sources, and attorney discretion. For crime victims, the advantages of plea negotiation are that the case will be resolved without a trial and there is a predictable result. For the criminal justice system as a whole, plea negotiations cost much less than trials and represent significant savings to taxpayers. Plea offers are frequently discussed and cases resolved at a pre-trial conference. Approximately 95% of all cases filed by the District Attorney's Office are resolved through negotiations.
If a case is not resolved through negotiations, it will proceed to trial. The defendant has the right to a jury trial, but may waive that right and have the trial heard by the judge instead. The defendant is also entitled to a speedy trial. If the defendant is in custody, the trial must be scheduled within sixty days from the date of the arrest, except in murder cases. The defendant may also waive the right to a speedy trial. Even though a defendant may have admitted committing the crime, they can still go to trial and require the State to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that they committed the crime. Witnesses are subpoenaed to testify at trial and both the State and the defense may present evidence.
If a defendant is charged with a crime punishable as a misdemeanor, the victim may agree to a settlement or civil compromise and the charges will be dismissed. If the defendant pays all costs and expenses incurred and the victim acknowledges in writing that satisfaction has been received, the court may dismiss the charges. The District Attorney's Office cannot advise the victim how to proceed and the judge makes the final decision.
Sentencing occurs after the defendant is convicted at trial or enters a guilty or no contest plea, and is the final step in the prosecution. The sentence is the punishment imposed on the defendant and is determined by the judge within the boundaries set by Oregon law. The type of crime and the defendant's criminal history are taken into consideration. The District Attorney's Office and the victim can make recommendations, but the judge makes the final decision.
Of the thousands of defendants who are sentenced each year, most receive probation and are supervised by the Washington County Community Corrections Department. Most are also required to pay fines and fees. Many are ordered to pay restitution to the victim. Some are ordered to perform community service, to undergo drug or alcohol treatment, or to participate in other counseling programs. Some are sentenced to serve time (less than a year) in the Washington County Jail and some are sentenced to prison.
After sentencing, a defendant may appeal the conviction and sentence. Appeals are heard by the Oregon Court of Appeals. The time it takes to decide an appeal varies greatly, depending on the number of issues raised and the complexity of the case. In some cases, the appeal may continue on to the Oregon Supreme Court. In death penalty cases, the appeal goes directly to the Oregon Supreme Court.