A plea bargain also will result in the preparation of a probation report to guide the judge in evaluating the proposed sentence. A plea bargain can occur at any point in the criminal court proceeding, including after a formal trial has begun. If a criminal case goes to trial, 12 citizens will be selected to serve on a jury, along with one or more alternates alternates are selected in case one of the regular jurors becomes ill or incapacitated or is otherwise unable to serve during the course of the trial.
General information on the witnesses called and evidence introduced during the trial will be filed in the criminal court record. A court reporter also will produce a transcript of the testimony in a jury trial, but that usually is not filed in the court record. In California, if a defendant in a felony case has been convicted of a crime, a probation report will be prepared on the person. The report is prepared in both plea bargains and jury verdicts, and it will be filed as part of the court record. A probation report, prepared by the county probation department, is done to help the judge decide the appropriate sentence for the defendant.
The report provides information such as:. The probation reports are sealed 60 days after a person is sentenced and are then no longer publicly available. Section A reporter should bring a copy of the new criminal complaint or even a news clipping about it to give to the clerk at the court for a previous case to show a new charge has been filed against the person and hence an old probation report should be made public again.
Some courts, such as in Alameda County, also have been challenging the right to access probation reports. Similar reports, sometimes called sentencing or pre-sentencing reports, are filed for people found guilty of misdemeanor crimes and for people found guilty in federal court of federal crimes. If a person enters a plea bargain or is convicted by a jury, the judge then will schedule a sentencing hearing, which will be held within 20 days of a conviction in felony cases. In the interim, a probation report will be prepared on the defendant to aid the judge in sentencing.
If prison or jail time is imposed, the person will get credit for time already served in custody during the criminal proceeding. A transcript of the hearing at which the judge imposes the sentence will be filed in the court record. A document describing the formal sentence also will be filed. This details the sentence the defendant received — county jail time, state prison time, suspended sentence, probation, etc.
For people under the age of 18 charged with crimes, a separate juvenile court system exists in each county in California. For more information on juvenile courts in California, including when a juvenile can be tried as an adult, see the official California Courts Web site. There are a number of U. District Courts in California, each of which covers a particular geographic area of the state. For example, the U. District Court also may have several branches. There is a separate alphabetical criminal index in each U. Each court also keeps a calendar of hearings in pending criminal cases.
In federal criminal cases, a U. Attorney usually will present evidence to a federal grand jury, which then will make a decision on whether to issue a criminal indictment against a person. The grand jury, which is a panel of ordinary citizens chosen like people selected for a trial jury, has the power to subpoena documents and witnesses in investigating a case and then deciding whether to deliver an indictment. Usually such subpoenas are issued at the request of the U.
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Attorney when he or she is outlining the case to the grand jury. On rare occasions a federal criminal complaint can be filed directly by a U. Attorney, usually when the person being charged waives their right to have the case handled by a grand jury.
New York State Unified Court System
A complaint like this filed directly by a U. Generally the other court procedures and the types of documents filed in federal criminal cases are similar to those in state cases. One significant exception is that the transcript of a federal grand jury proceeding is not made public after an indictment is issued, in contrast to transcripts of superior court grand jury proceedings in California that are made part of the public court record after an indictment although a federal judge can order that a transcript be made public.
There are various state and federal appellate courts for criminal cases that were appealed from state superior courts or U. District Courts.
For cases involving state crimes, the appeals court in Northern California is the California First Appellate District. Federal cases, or state cases that raise federal constitutional issues, can be appealed up to the U. Supreme Court. The records kept at appeals courts will include the appeal filed by either the prosecutor or the defense attorney, any motions filed by either side with the appeals court and the final decision by the appeals court.
The transcript of arguments made in person before the appeals court by attorneys in the case may not be available in the public record. Or they may be filed after a person has been convicted and sentenced, in an attempt to overturn the conviction. The court file for the original case back in superior court or U. District Court that produced the appeal also will include a notation that an appeal was filed. And it will include a subsequent memo indicating the result of the appeal although often not a copy of the appellate court ruling itself.
Sometimes the clerk will allow you to view the file, sometimes not, depending on whether the judge needs access to the file. The requirements of court procedures trump the right of the public to view the files, so you have no recourse here other than just asking. While access to court records is free, there are no limits on what courts can charge for making copies of the records.
State laws like the California Public Records Act that regulate copying charges by public agencies do not apply to the courts. Some courts have self-service photocopy machines.
So be sure to bring lots of change when you go to a court to look at records. Very few criminal court records are available online, and even indexes to criminal cases are rarely available online. An example of one criminal index that is online is Sacramento County Superior Court. This index is searchable by name of defendant and goes back to The actual records in the case are not online, however. Only a few superior courts in the San Francisco Bay Area put indexes to criminal court records online. The database provides information on up to the next five days of court hearings be sure to check the circle next to Today plus the next four court dates to search the calendar for more than just one day.
The actual documents filed in the criminal case are not available online. That system was designed mainly for attorneys, and you have to set up an account and pay a fee when you access documents via PACER. The U. District Court for Northern California in San Francisco has calendars of current cases for its judges online at its website. Go to:. District Court for the Northern District of California. And the judges listed handle both civil and criminal cases.
Indexes of past criminal cases are not available at the U. District Court website. The actual court records also are not available at the court website. Appeals courts, both state and federal, frequently put their decisions online in both criminal and civil cases. California First Appellate District.
Both criminal and civil appeals cases are listed. Enter the last name of the defendant in the by Case Title box. Records are available online about people convicted of sexual offenses who are released from custody, usually on parole. Department of Justice operates a website you can search to locate convicted sex offenders in all 50 states.
Go to the:. Executions are typically kept in separate volumes because of their importance. Jury Records and Files - Juries are the parties of peers that decide if a defendant is guilty or not guilty. Their determination is taken into account when the judge renders his final judgement. Their composition and decisions are a matter of record. Grand Juries - Grand juries are also called indictment juries. They consist of between 1 and 23 members, and are present during the preliminary hearings to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed to a trial. Petit Juries - These are also called trial juries.
They consist of between six and 12 people. They are an impartial group of peers that hear evidence and arguments to determine reasonable doubt, or guilt, for the defendant. Witness Documentation - Witness lists show the full names of those that took the stand to offer testimony against the accused in a criminal trial.
Glossary - A glossary of legal terms related to court records. Court minutes are a documentation of the actions recording during a session of court.
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They can refer to the process of trial and adjudication, the arguments presented by both complainant and defendant, or even the details of witness testimony. Where dockets and indexes end, court minutes pick up. Court minutes will cover a variety of topics. For example, in county court, minutes will cover the proceedings of both civil and criminal cases, unless the penalty for the criminal offense was death. They will also detail the names and information for the overseers of the poor, coroners, justices of the peace, jurors, and tax officials.
On occasion, the minutes will not be complete, or complete enough, to include the names of all witnesses and jurors, though this is often still the best option for finding such information. Upon deciding to hear a case, an entry is entered on a court docket while the defendant awaits the trial date. The purpose of a docket is to determine the current status of a pending case. Most cases see multiple changes as their status changes in the court of the case.
There are several kinds of dockets. These entries represent the majority of docket entries but do not encompass them. For a more information, visit a local courthouse and request access to the court docket. These are often the most valuable, and sought after, court records available. They contain the most usable information from a case, trial, and dispute of all court records. Information in these documents typically include original copies of subpoenas, writs, testimony, publications, and most importantly: evidence. These details are almost never recorded in the minutes, orders, or docket.
These types of court records can vary widely in size. Some contain just a few pages or documents, while others from larger, controversial, or complex cases can contain hundreds of pages. Historically, these documents take up so much space that even before digitization and in the internet, they were stored in microfilm. When conducting research on cases of antiquity, interested parties will often have to make use of aging microfilm viewers.
Thankfully, most case files now are subject to digitization, and are open to the public on computers or online. While these records often documents the actions of attorneys, lawyers, or other legal professionals, those that represent the plaintiff or defendant do not always have a legal background. Regardless of their profession, attorney records detail the actions of those that represent those either accusing, or being accused.
Orders of the court are, put simply, the findings of the court. They are almost always recorded in all jurisdictions for future reference. One particularly important order of the court recording are executions; these orders are often kept in a separate volume due to their importance. The order of the court is also known as an official proclamation, and can define the legal relationships between the parties present during trial.
While rare today, in some jurisdictions, the court clerk is required to make an extensive court minute entry on the subject of the judgement given by the judge. These are usually preceded by an abridgement of the of the case itself. These are typically used as legal sources for lawyers because of their great detail and thorough description of the judges findings.
The jury represent the group of peers that appear in court to offer judgement to the defendant. While the judge has final say on punishment parameters, the jury is the group of people that decide if there is substantial enough evidence to determine if the accused is guilty. If they find the evidence lacking, they are meant to vote for innocence.
These people are selected at random from the populace in a process called serving jury duty.
In this way, the American people take part in the judgement of accused parties, making for a more fair and just society. Tampering with a jury is strictly forbidden, and can trigger additional accusations. Jury records are maintained separately from other court records for the purposes of jury duty. Jury duty consists of a list of eligible candidates that is largely based on tax records or voter registration. Because of this, jury records will show the names, addresses, occupations, and ages of those involved in a case in the capacity of a jury.
When a juror is dismissed, their dismissal reason is noted in jury records. Jury duty is mandatory unless the juror has a legitimate excuse. Witness lists show the full names of those that took the stand to offer their testimony against the accused in a criminal trial. These lists originally formed around the idea of providing information on ancestral connections family of the witnesses in case any bias was found. While today they serve mostly a record keeping purpose, they still persist, and are almost always present. Acquittal - A verdict rendered by a jury that the defendant is not guilty.
When can I be charged with a crime and convicted?
Also applies to when a judge find evidence insufficient. Appeal - A post-trial request made by the party that has lost. These are usually made on the basis that something was wrong with the ruling, evidence, or another aspect of the case. Appeals can sometimes move to higher courts. Appellate - an appellate court is responsible for reviewing the judgement of a lower court or trial court.
Arraignment - A process in which a defendant is brought before the judge to be told of the charges levied against them.
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Bail - The release of a prisoner prior to their trial. A person accused of a crime may spend the time waiting for their trial in jail or prison, but with bail this person is able to have some modicum of freedom. Bail is achieved by posting a set amount of money that in most cases is returned upon the criminal returning for their trial.
Bankruptcy Court - A unit of a district court that deals exclusively with bankruptcy. Will have a specific judge called a Bankruptcy Judge, which has decision-making power in federal bankruptcy cases. Brief - A written statement submitted during or before a trial or appellate process. Burden of Proof - The duty of the plaintiff to prove disputed facts. In criminal trials, the government has the burden of proof.
In civil cases, it is typically the accuser. Case File - A collection of every document that was filed in court during a trial or case. Case Law - The law as established in previous court rulings. This is also known as precedent or legal precedent. Caseload - The number of cases a given court will tend do in a specific amount of time.
Typically reports annually. Charges Dismissed - Charges are what a suspect or criminal has been formally accused of doing, and when these charges are found to be false or lack sufficient evidence to accuse, they are dismissed. Charges Filed - Criminal charges are filed against a particular individual shortly after the time of arrest. These charges are then taken to a judge to decide if there is sufficient cause for trial and prosecution.
Criminal Classifications - There are typically three different criminal classifications. In order ot magnitude, these are felonies, misdemeanors, and either infractions or petty crimes. The latter crimes are used to cover minor crimes like traffic violations or ordinance violations.
Many states group these lesser crimes and misdemeanors. Criminal Justice - Criminal justice is the term given to the section of the legal system that deals in criminal law. That is to say, the section that deals with prosecution and defense of alleged criminals. Criminal Law - The practice and regulation of formally evaluating those accused of criminal offenses for the purposes of dismissing or justifying charges placed upon an alleged criminal.