The Law Enforcement Process
|Note: In most cases throughout the text of this folder, the masculine gender is used to represent both sexes, as is proper in formal writing. The generic term victim assistant is used to refer to those typically called victim assistants or victim advocates. If you do not understand a term used in the text, consult the glossary (Words You are Likely to Hear).|
Usually your first contact with law enforcement will be through the dispatcher or the patrol officer. It is the patrol officers job to respond to emergency situations and begin the investigation process (gathering information about the crime). The patrol officer may play a major role in the investigation, but his work may be passed on to an investigator (or detective) who will be in charge of the investigation until the solicitors office becomes involved in the case. The solicitor (or deputy solicitor, called district attorney in many states) is the attorney for the State. The police will conduct the investigation. The solicitors office makes decisions about the prosecution of the case.
The person who takes photographs, searches for fingerprints, and collects items of evidence at the crime scene is the forensics officer (or crime scene technician or criminologist), if your law enforcement agency has such a specialized officer. If you are the victim of an attack, you may actually be part of the "crime scene." Evidence may be on your person that needs to be collected (including clothing or samples taken by swabbing or scraping under the fingernails) or documented (such as, by photographs).
Some of the evidence that needs to be collected might require the service of a medical doctor. In those cases, you will be required to go to a doctors office or hospital. The doctor has a list of things he must do to collect evidence. This list is often called a protocol.
Anyone who has control over a person or property may give permission for the police to collect evidence. Sometimes when the police are not given permission to collect evidence, they must go to a judge to get a search warrant.
Anyone who has any information about your case is a potential witness. They might not have seen the crime committed, but what they know may help prosecute the case.
The person who committed the crime is the offender or perpetrator. In the beginning he is usually called the suspect. Once a warrant is issued charging him with the crime, he becomes the defendant. His attorney is the defense attorney. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the court may appoint one to represent him, or he may qualify to be represented by a defense attorney that is paid for by the taxpayers called a public defender.
Anyone who knowingly helps the offender commit the crime, but doesnt participate in the criminal act is an accessory and also may be charged with a crime.
The criminal prosecution begins when the police begin efforts to arrest a suspect. Up until that point, the police are conducting an investigation.
The investigation may take several days or more until the case is solved. Or it may never be solved. Your cooperation likely will be necessary throughout the investigation. However, your participation in the case may go on for much longer, perhaps years.
The person who will help you with your needs is the victim assistant. Your victim assistant may be at the police or sheriffs department, the solicitors office, another governmental agency, or a private organization. You may have more than one victim assistant. The victim assistants job is to answer your questions, help you with filing necessary paperwork, keep you informed about the status of your case, and provide you with information about the resources that are available to you. All solicitors offices have victim assistants, but not all law enforcement agencies have them. If you are not contacted by a law enforcement victim assistant or if your law enforcement agency does not have a victim assistant, you may call the victim assistant at the solicitors office.
The Governors Office has a Crime Victims Ombudsman. If you have problems getting the service you need from people in the criminal justice system, you may want to contact the ombudsman (see Resources list). You will have to send the ombudsman a letter of complaint explaining your problem before he can look into the matter.
Law enforcement agencies must provide victims, free of charge, the following: a copy of the initial incident report of the case, documents which describe the victims constitutional rights granted by the state, the victims responsibilities, local victim assistance, social service providers, victim compensation information, rights concerning harrassment and threats, assistance with creditors and employers, and information concerning the status and progress of the case and investigation.
|It is the responsibility of law enforcement to provide a copy of the incident report, free of charge.|
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