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The Legal Process

The State of California has said that one person cannot force or pressure someone else to engage in sexual activity. The survivor has done their part by reporting this crime. Now the case is in the hands of the people who enforce and bring to trial people who break the laws. At any time, they may decide they don’t have enough evidence to prove that a crime occurred – this does not mean they don’t believe the survivor. The Center advocates can help the survivor through this. In general, here is the process:

Law Enforcement: Law enforcement may or may not make an arrest when the crime is reported. If they do not arrest the assailant immediately, s/he may still be arrested at a later time. The detective may want to talk to the survivor again about how the case will need the survivor’s help with the investigation of this crime. A Center advocate can be with them.

Jail: After an arrest is made, the assailant may or may not bail out of jail; later on, bail could be reduced. Survivor’s can call the VINE number to see if he/she is in jail.

District Attorney: The DA’s office decides whether or not to file charges. This will depend on whether or not the DA thinks s/he can prove in court that a sexual assault occurred. THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY FILES CHARGES AGAINST YOUR ASSAILANT, THE VICTIM DOES NOT! The assailant may agree to plead guilty to certain charges (usually lesser or fewer charges) at any time in this process – this is called plea bargaining.

Arraignment: The hearing at which an assailant is charged with a crime. The victim does not usually attend this hearing.

Preliminary Hearing: This is a hearing to decide if there’s enough evidence to believe that a crime could have occurred. The victim may need to attend this hearing and tell her story.

Trial: Victim usually will tell her story before a jury.

Note: There are also times in this process when the DA and the assailant’s attorney may meet to see if they are ready for the next step or are ready to settle the case.

Frequently, sexual assault cases do not go to a jury trial. The DA may decide s/he can’t prove to a jury that the sexual assault was forced sex instead of consensual (agreed on) sex or the assailant may plead guilty to lesser charges.