Criminal Justice System

An Overview of the Criminal Justice System

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When a crime is reported, the law enforcement agency is responsible for conducting an investigation.  After completing its investigation, the law enforcement agency may submit a report to the District Attorney’s Office.   A prosecuting attorney then reviews the case and decides whether to charge an individual or individuals with a crime.

Release Agreement

When a defendant (suspect) is arrested and taken to jail, the defendant must sign a release agreement before being released from custody. 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 for which the arrest has been made. The release agreement is in effect until the court case is concluded. If a victim is contacted by the defendant while the case is pending, the contact should be reported to the law enforcement agency immediately.


Court Process

A court case begins when the District Attorney’s Office files a criminal complaint, information or indictment document with the court.  That document sets forth the crimes with which the defendant is being charged.

Felony Charges. Felony charges include possession, manufacturing and delivery of drugs; robbery; burglary; theft in the first degree; assault in the first/second/third degree; most sexual assault crimes. The maximum term of imprisonment for these charges may be more than one year. If the District Attorney files felony charges against a defendant, a Grand Jury will hear the evidence in the case and decide if the case should proceed as a felony case.

Misdemeanor Charges.  Misdemeanor charges include assault in the fourth degree; harassment; menacing; theft in the second/third degree.   The maximum term of imprisonment for misdemeanor charges may be not more than one year.



The arraignment is the first court appearance after a defendant is arrested or issued a citation.  At the arraignment, the defendant appears before the Judge who explains the charges that have been filed and the rights of the defendant.  If the defendant is indigent, the Judge will appoint an attorney to represent the defendant.  The Court may make a decision about bail and release from jail if the defendant is in custody.


Grand Jury

The Grand Jury is made up of seven citizens chosen at random by the Court.  They listen to witnesses and examine the evidence presented by the State, and determine whether the State has sufficient evidence to prosecute the defendant for the offense.  The defendant is not present.  The defense attorney is not present. 


Entering a Plea

At an entry of plea hearing, the defendant may enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, a trial date will be set. It is usually several months before a trial takes place, and the trial may be reset several times. If the case goes to trial, victims and witnesses will be subpoenaed to testify.

If the defendant enters a guilty plea, the defendant may be sentenced at the time of the plea, or the sentencing may be scheduled for a later date to allow the victims to attend if they have so requested.


Pre-Trial Hearings

Sometimes there are hearings on pre-trial motions.  Motions are applications to the Court by an attorney so that the Judge can make decisions on what kinds of evidence can be used at trial.  Witnesses can be called at those hearings so that the Judge can hear the evidence that is being challenged.



At a trial, the prosecuting attorney must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty of the charges.  To meet that burden of proof, the prosecuting attorney will call witnesses to testify about the facts of the case.  The defense attorney can then question the State’s witnesses.  Sometimes, papers and other items are also introduced as evidence.  The defense attorney can call witnesses, and sometimes calls the defendant as a witness.  The prosecuting attorney can question the defense witnesses.

The prosecuting attorney can call witnesses after the defense case is finished.  When the jury and the Judge have heard all the evidence, the attorneys summarize their cases in closing arguments.  After the attorneys are done, the Judge instructs the jury on what laws to apply to the facts.  It is up to the jury to decide what the facts are in the case, and to decide what parts of the witnesses’ testimony to believe.  The jury then deliberates and reaches a verdict.



The sentencing is the final step in the prosecution, after the defendant has been convicted at trial or has entered a guilty plea. The sentence is the punishment imposed on the defendant and is determined by the Judge according to the type of crime and the number of the defendant’s prior convictions. The victim can make a statement at sentencing and the prosecuting attorney can make sentencing recommendations, but the Judge is the final authority. Of the thousands of defendants who are sentenced each year, most receive probation. Most have to pay fines and fees. Many are ordered to pay restitution at sentencing. Some are ordered to do community service. Some are ordered to undergo drug or alcohol treatment or intervention-specific counseling. Some are sentenced to time (less than a year) in the county jail and some are sentenced to the state penitentiary.



After sentencing, a defendant may appeal his 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 Supreme Court. In death penalty cases, the appeals go directly to the Supreme Court.


Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision 

If the victim so requests and furnishes a current address, the Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision is required to: (1) notify and allow a victim to appear and present their views at a defendant’s parole hearing; (2) notify a victim 30 days before a defendant is released from the penitentiary (not county jail).  To register with the Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision, click on the link below.

  Board of Parole Seal Board of Parole


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251 “B” St. W. | Vale, OR 97918
Hours are 8:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Office (541) 473-5127  | Victims Services (541) 473-5127 
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