In every criminal case, there is police involvement. Occasionally a police officer will observe a crime being committed such as speeding or driving while intoxicated. However, most police are alerted to a possible crime because someone—a victim, a witness, a friend of a victim, a hospital, or fire department—contacts the police.
Do I have to give a statement to law enforcement?
Police on scene attempt to determine whether a crime has been committed by making contact with all witnesses on the scene. This includes the victim, the alleged perpetrator, eye witnesses, medical attendants, and any other people with personal knowledge of what happened. As a victim, you have the right to make a statement or refuse to make a statement. Even if you refuse to sign a nonconsent form or cooperate with the police, a criminal case can still be filed.
What can a law enforcement officer ask me to do?
Other than giving a statement, you will likely be asked to sign a nonconsent affidavit. This is a document that states that you did not give permission for someone to violate you (e.g., commit a rape, assault, etc.). The officer may also ask if you would be willing to undergo an exam and ask for other evidence such as your clothes or photos of the scene. You have a right to request the officer’s name and your case number so you can contact the police department if you wish.
What is a SANE exam?
A SANE exam (an examination performed by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) is used to determine whether someone has sustained injuries that might be indicative of an assault and collect any related evidence. The nurse will first take your statement regarding what happened, including when the incident happened and whether you have had consensual sex with anyone recently. The nurse will then examine you from head to toe, looking for any bruises or cuts that might indicate what you have been through. If you are a woman, the nurse will also conduct a pelvic examination to check your genital region for injuries as well. During this entire examination process, the nurse will be photographing anything they see as well as collecting any evidence (DNA or otherwise) that might be present.
Who has access to a SANE exam?
If a SANE exam is performed through an ongoing law enforcement investigation, the report and the results of any DNA testing are sent directly to the law enforcement agency. After that, the exam is shared with the district attorney’s office and, if a criminal case is filed, the defendant’s attorney. If a SANE exam is performed at the request of an adult without the involvement of law enforcement, then the report and DNA evidence collected are held for two years. During those two years, the adult victim cannot request that the DNA be tested. If during those two years, however, the adult victim decides to report the assault to law enforcement and an investigation is opened, the results of the SANE exam are available for law enforcement to use.
Who can access the results of a SANE exam?
The SANE report issued and written by the SANE nurses is maintained indefinitely as part of the hospital records. However, no one can access it without a subpoena. That means that even you as the victim will not be able to get a copy because it is not considered part of your normal medical records. It also means that you do not have to worry about anyone else getting their hands on a copy unless they are otherwise involved in any criminal case that may result from the incident.
What types of evidence may the police need from me?
The types of evidence police are looking for depends on many things, including where the alleged crime occurred and how much time has passed. Investigators will attempt to gather any physical evidence present at the scene. This may include photos, clothing, DNA, fingerprints, and surveillance videos. If you have taken a shower or washed your clothes or sheets, biological evidence may be lost.
What happens once the police have all the information they need about my case?
Once an investigation has been completed, law enforcement will send the case to the local district attorney’s office. If the district attorney’s office accepts the case, the case will be presented to the grand jury. If a grand jury believes there is probable cause that a crime has been committed, they will return a true bill, and the case will be filed and a warrant will issue for the defendant.
Will I be called to testify at the grand jury?
Probably not, but it is possible. If you are called to testify, the defendant and his attorney will not be present in the room at this hearing. The members of the grand jury, the prosecutor from the district attorney’s office, and a court reporter will be present.
When will I be asked to go to court?
You have the right to come to any court proceeding involving your case if you would like, but you do not have to unless you have been served with a subpoena. Keep in mind that your cooperation and willingness to assist with a prosecution (including testifying at hearings and at trial) may have an impact on a prosecutor’s willingness to move forward with your case.
What is a subpoena?
A subpoena is a writ ordering a person to show up at court on a specific day at a specific time. If you do not show up at the requested time, police officers may find you and bring you to court. The parties to a trial will often agree to allow you to not show up until immediately necessary rather than be physically present for the whole trial. You should talk to the prosecutor to verify when to be in court.
What if I learn new information in reference to my case, have questions, or want to make an additional statement?
Contact the district attorney’s office or the detective that handled your case.
Can the defendant contact me while the case is pending?
Unless a court order says otherwise, the defendant cannot contact you while the case is pending either directly (by phone, letter, in person) or indirectly (through a friend or family member). It is your decision whether you choose to communicate with the defendant. If at any time while the case is pending you feel unsafe or threatened, call the police immediately.
What happens once the defendant goes to court?
In most cases, a bond will be set, and the defendant may be released. If not, the defendant will be brought from jail to court. Once the defendant appears before the judge, he or she will have the opportunity to hire an attorney or ask that one be appointed, and he or she will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If a “guilty” plea is entered, the defendant will be sentenced. If a “not guilty” plea is entered, the judge will schedule the case for trial. In some cases, a defendant will change a “not guilty” plea to a “guilty” or “no contest” plea because the defendant and his or her attorney reach an agreement with the district attorney’s office regarding potential punishment.
What should I do if I receive a letter from the district attorney’s office about the case?
If you receive a letter from the district attorney’s office, contact their office. No matter what eventually happens with the case, it is very important that they are able to get in touch with you. It is also important to let the assistant district attorney handling your case know your thoughts, feelings, or concerns regarding your case.
If I gave a statement to the police, why would I have to testify in court?
Unless an exception applies, a previous statement on its own is not admissible as evidence unless the witness is present in court and subject to cross-examination. The defense and prosecutor have the right to confront witnesses in person.
If I do not want to go forward with the case, how can the district attorney’s office still move forward?
The district attorney represents the State of Texas, not you personally as the victim. Although it is often more difficult, there are times when the district attorney’s office is able to move forward with a case even if the victim or other witnesses are not cooperative.
What is the potential punishment for sexual assault?
In Texas, sexual assault of an adult is a second degree felony which carries a punishment of 2-20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Is prison the only option for punishment in a sexual assault case?
Not usually. Probation is an option in some cases.
What are alternative options to prison?
- Pre-Trial Diversion: Many counties in Texas have various types of pre-trial diversion programs. This usually includes the defendant signing a judicial confession admitting to guilt. Once admitted into the program, the defendant is required to report as if on probation, pay a fee, attend classes, complete community service, and satisfy other requirements. Upon the defendant’s completion of the program, the case will be dismissed, and no conviction will be listed on the defendant’s criminal record.
- Deferred Adjudication: Deferred adjudication is basically probation, but if the defendant successfully completes the deferred adjudication period, the case is dismissed and will not result in a conviction. If the defendant violates the terms of his or her deferred adjudication, participation in the program can be revoked, and the defendant can be sent to prison. This would result in a final conviction on the defendant’s criminal record. If a defendant’s participation in deferred adjudication is revoked, a judge may sentence the defendant any amount of time up to the maximum time in prison for the underlying offense, which is 20 years for sexual assault of an adult.
- Straight Probation: Probation allows an individual to live and function outside of prison, but it will still result in a permanent criminal conviction. Probation may include a fine, community service, reporting, classes, drug testing, no contact with the victim, and restitution payments. The maximum time allowed on straight probation is 10 years. If the defendant violates the terms of his or her probation, he or she can go to prison.
If I have to appear in court will the defendant be there?
Yes, the defendant in a criminal case has the constitutional right to be in court for any proceedings involving his or her case.
Can I sit in the courtroom during trial?
Not usually. Under the Rule of Witnesses, you may be unable to sit in the courtroom while any other witness is testifying.
What should I wear to court?
Most courtrooms have a dress code that prohibits some clothing, such as jeans and flip-flops. When deciding what to wear to court, you should adhere to the Three Golden Rules: (1) not too short, (2) not too tight, and (3) not too low-cut. For women, a dress that comes to your knees or pants with a nice top would be appropriate. For men, it is not required that you wear a full suit, but you should at least wear dress slacks or khaki pants and a collared shirt.
What is acceptable behavior in court?
Once in the courtroom, it is important to maintain appropriate behavior and decorum. Silence your cell phone and avoid making noise, talking loudly to your neighbor, or otherwise disrupting the court proceedings in any way. If you find that listening to what is going on in the courtroom is affecting you emotionally, step outside and take a break. Do not cause a scene. Courtroom outbursts most often occur when a verdict is being read. Judges will not permit an outburst of emotion, regardless of the verdict. Whether you are happy or sad, wait until you get outside the courtroom to wail or jump for joy.
- WHAT SHOULD I DO?
- REPORTING TO LAW ENFORCEMENT AND NAVIGATING THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
- GUIDE FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS