Prosecution of a Criminal Case

The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office is responsible for the prosecution of all crimes committed in Hamilton County, Indiana. The office personnel of attorneys and various support staff prepare criminal cases for filing and resolution before a Court. The purpose of this page is to provide an overview of the criminal prosecution process, and the role played by the Hamilton County Prosecutor and his deputy prosecutors.

Case Initiation

A criminal case is usually initiated by the investigation of criminal activity by police officers. The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office does not engage in direct investigation of criminal matters. The role of investigation is for the police departments for crimes committed in their jurisdictions. The officer's job is to collect evidence, interview witnesses, and record as well as possible the facts involved in the commission of a crime. Our office will assist police officers in ongoing investigations by providing legal advice to the police to insure that they do not violate the rights of the suspect, and also to advise the police on what evidence would be necessary to obtain a conviction in a Court for any crime they are investigating. When a police officer has completed his investigation, the officer will then present the case to our office, where a deputy prosecuting attorney will review the investigation to determine if charges will be filed.

The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office receives a variety of police investigations. These investigations can range from the relatively straightforward, but unfortunately too common street arrest for criminal activity witnessed by the uniformed officer, such as a drunk driver, to very complex investigations involving several detectives gathering information over a substantial period of time. These investigations will ordinarily involve much more serious criminal activity, such as murder. Or a long period of time may be required to untangle a complex web of criminal activity, such as a white collar fraud scheme. Even though it may appear to the public that sometimes police or the prosecutor is slow in acting on allegations of criminal activity, there is often a great deal of time consuming work necessary to collect all the evidence necessary to file a criminal charge.

Filing Criminal Charges

A deputy prosecutor who receives a criminal case from a police officer is given the job of "screening" the case. The deputy prosecutor must determine first whether or not the facts alleged, if true, constitute a crime. Crimes are very specifically defined by the Indiana General Assembly, and if the facts discovered by the police officer do not fit any crime, then no charge can be filed. For example, murder is defined as knowingly or intentionally killing another human being. If a case of one person killing another is presented to the deputy prosecutor, and the evidence shows that the death was accidental, the elements of the crime of murder are not present, and no criminal charge of murder can be filed.

Supporting Evidence
Second, the deputy prosecutor must determine whether there is enough evidence to support the criminal charge. For a criminal charge to be filed, there must be probable cause to believe a person committed a crime. The amount of proof for probable cause is not very great. However, in order to get a conviction for the crime, the proof must be Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, which is a very high standard. The deputy prosecutor who files a case must assess whether this high standard has been met, as he or she will be required to meet it in Court. So even if there is reason to believe a person has committed a crime, and a charge could be filed, if the evidence will not support a conviction, a charge will not be filed.

A charge can be filed after the police have arrested a person, or a charge can be filed before the arrest, in which case the Court will issue an arrest warrant for the person, which will have a bond amount set on the warrant.

Court Hearings

Once a criminal case has been filed, there are a number of potential hearings which can take place. 1st, once a defendant has been arrested, he or she is brought before a Court for what is called an "initial hearing". At this hearing, the defendant is advised of the charges and given a copy of them, he is advised of his rights, and it is determined whether he intends to hire an attorney or needs an attorney appointed. The Court will also schedule a pretrial conference, and some Courts will also set a trial date. If the defendant's bond has not been set, a bond will be set at the initial hearing.

A pretrial conference is usually an informal meeting between the prosecutor, the defendant's lawyer and the judge. The Defendant may also be required to attend. At this hearing it is determined whether any other hearings are needed, whether the case is likely to proceed to trial, and how long the trial will take.

Other hearings which may take place before the trial include a bond reduction hearing, or a suppression hearing, where the defendant may ask the Court to not allow the prosecutor to use certain evidence at trial.

The Plea Process
The large number of cases filed by the Prosecutor's Office means that it is impractical to take all of them to trial. There is a give and take process with the defendant's lawyer where the 2 may seek an agreement. Under the terms of the agreement the defendant usually takes a conviction in exchange for some guarantee of the type of conviction or sentence. In cases where a person has suffered injury or a loss of property, the Prosecutor's Office will notify the person of the terms of the proposed plea, and give them the opportunity for input on how the case is disposed.

If the Parties cannot reach a plea agreement, the case will proceed to trial. Trial can be to the judge, or to a jury of 6 or 12 persons, depending on the severity of the charge. A bench trial on a minor charge can last as little as 30 minutes, while a 12 person jury trial on a serious crime can take over a week. During a trial, the defendant has many rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and the State of Indiana. Some of the rights are the right to be represented by an attorney; to see, hear and cross examine in person all witnesses against them; and the right to a public and speedy jury trial.

A finding of guilty results in a conviction for the crime, while a finding of not guilty ends the case and the defendant is free to go.

Sentencing & Appeal
If a person is convicted of a misdemeanor, the judge can impose sentence at the time of conviction. If the conviction is for a felony offense, the law requires a separate sentencing hearing at a later date. A sentencing hearing is usually held in thirty to sixty days after the date of conviction in these cases.
The potential penalties for different classes of crimes is listed below:
  • Murder: A fixed term of imprisonment of 55 years, which can be increased by 10 years for a maximum sentence of 65 years, or reduced by 10 years to a minimum sentence of 45 years. A fine of up to $10,000 may be assessed.
  • Class A Felony: A fixed term of imprisonment of 30 years, which can be increased by twenty years for a maximum sentence of 50 years, or reduced by 10 years for a minimum of 20 years. A fine of up to $10,000 may be assessed.
  • Class B Felony: A fixed term of imprisonment of 10 years, which can be increased by 10 years for a maximum sentence of 20 years, or reduced by 4 years for a minimum sentence of 6 years. A fine of up to $10,000 may be assessed.
  • Class C Felony: A fixed term of imprisonment of 4 years, which can be increased by 4 years for a maximum sentence of 8 years, or reduced by 2 years for a minimum sentence of 2 years. A fine of up to $10,000 may be assessed.
  • Class D Felony: A fixed term of imprisonment of 1 and 1/2 years, which may be increased by 1 and 1/2 years for a maximum sentence of 3 years, and reduced by 1 year for a minimum sentence of 6 months. Notwithstanding the above, the defendant may also receive Alternative Conviction and sentencing as a Class A Misdemeanor. A fine of up to $10,000 may be assessed.
  • Class A Misdemeanor: The defendant may receive a sentence of up to 1 year. A fine of up to $5,000 may be assessed.
  • Class B Misdemeanor: The defendant may receive a sentence of up to 180 days. A fine of up to $1,000 may be assessed.
  • Class C Misdemeanor: The defendant may receive a sentence of up to 60 days. A fine of up to $500 may be assessed.
A person convicted and sentenced for a crime can appeal his conviction to the Indiana Court of Appeals or the Indiana Supreme Court. An appeal does not involve hearings or presentation of evidence. The Appellate Court will only review the transcripts of the evidence from the trial, and consider written legal arguments, called briefs, which are submitted by the State and the defendant. On rare occasions, the Appellate Court will ask the attorneys to appear for an oral argument, where the Justices of the Court give the attorneys an opportunity to clarify legal arguments. The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office does not represent the State on Appeal; this is done by the Attorney General of Indiana.

On appeal, if the trial court has not made an error in applying the law, the Court will affirm the conviction, and the defendant's conviction and sentence stands. If the Court finds there was error in the trial court, the case will be reversed, and sent back to the trial court for a new trial or sentencing proceeding, or if the error is significant enough, the Appellate Court can dismiss the case.

The prosecution of a criminal case can be a frustrating and arduous process, especially for citizens who are not accustomed to working within the criminal justice system. The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office continuously strives to improve our service to and communication with anyone confronted with the process. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions, concerns, or comments on how we can better serve you. You can call the office at 317-776-8595.