The Connecticut Criminal Justice system is divided into two divisions known as Part A and Part B. Major felony crimes are generally handled in Part A, which is generally housed in the J.D., or Judicial District Court. Part A cases may or may not be in the same building as Part B cases, which are generally housed in the G.A., or Geographical Area court. For instance, in New Haven the Part B court is housed at G.A. 23 on Elm Street, while Part A is housed at the J.D. located at 235 Church Street. But in Hartford both Part A and Part B cases are handled in the same building on Lafayette Street: the J.D. is on the third floor while the G.A. is on the second. Because each courthouse operates slightly differently, it is always important to be sure you have the right address.
Your first court appearance is known as your arraignment. Typically, arraignment involves making the defendant aware of the charges against him or her, the opportunity to argue about bail and conditions of release, and a chance to get the discovery (or evidence in the State's file). It may or may not involve the entering of a not guilty plea and a jury election, and it does not always entail going on the record.
Based on the nature of the charges against the defendant and his or her criminal record, some defendants will resolve their case by taking advantage of Pretrial Diversionary programs that, if successfully completed, will result in a dismissal of the charges. For instance, first-time O.U.I. offenders are often eligible for the Alcohol Education Program, a series of 10 or 15 classes that allow the defendant to apply for dismissal of the charges upon successful class completion. Similar programs exist for Family Violence and Drug Possession crimes. A more general, catch-all program called Accelerated Rehabilitation exists for first-time offenders without a criminal record charged with more serious crimes.
All Pretrial Diversionary programs have certain eligibility requirements that must be met in order to participate, and participation must be granted by a judge's order.
The Pretrial Process
Following arraignment, the defendant will be in what is known as the Pretrial phase. This phase may last 3-8 months, depending upon the complexity of the case, during which the defendant will have a court appearance every 4-6 weeks, if not more frequently. The defendant must appear in court personally, or risk having his or her bail revoked and picking up a new charge of Failure to Appear.
During the Pretrial phase, the defendant or his or her attorney will meet with the State's Attorney and discuss possible resolutions of the case, gather evidence as it becomes available, and discuss evidentiary and legal issues that may dispose of the case.
The Judicial Pretrial
Any disposition of the case requires a judge's order, so later in the Pretrial phase the defendant's attorney and the State's attorney will meet with the judge to discuss the case. Certain courthouses, and most of the JD courts, will hold Judicial pretrial meetings earlier and more often in the case.
The Firm Jury List
If the case cannot be resolved by way of a plea or other disposition, then the case will be placed on the Firm Jury List. Once on the firm jury list, the defendant and his or her attorney will be on 24 hours notice for getting called into trial, meaning that the court can call the defendant in to begin trial as early as the next day.
Trials in Connecticut begin with jury selection, which is conducted by way of individual voir dire, or questioning. Both the defendant and the State's Attorney will have an equal number of peremptory challenges that can be used to strike a potential juror for any reason and an unlimited number of legal challenges they can raise but which a judge must decide whether or not it disqualifies a potential juror.
Generally, once the jury has been selected, the case will move immediately into the presentation of evidence. Opening statements generally are NOT made in criminal cases in Connecticut. Instead, the case begins with the State calling witnesses and seeking to introduce other evidence, with the Defendant having the opportunity to cross-examine those witnesses and challenge the admission of evidence by way of objection. Once the State finishes its case, it will rest, at which point the Defendant may call witnesses if he or she chooses before resting as well.
Closing Arguments, Jury Instructions, and The Verdict
When both sides have rested, they will each have the opportunity to make closing arguments. Though both sides get an equal amount of time for closing arguments, the State will get two opportunities, arguing first and last with the defendant's closing argument sandwiched in between.
Following closing arguments the judge will instruct the jury on the law and how to apply it to the evidence. Then, the jury will head to the jury room with all the exhibits that were admitted as evidence and begin deliberations. During the course of deliberations, the jurors will choose a foreperson to speak for them and who may ask questions of the judge and request to hear or see certain evidence again.
At some point the jury will either come to a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty, or the jury will declare that they cannot reach a unanimous verdict. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict, the judge will declare a mistrial and the defendant may be tried again if the State chooses.
If the jury determines that the defendant is not guilty, then he or she will be acquitted and released. However, if the jury determines the defendant to be guilty, he or she will be convicted and scheduled for sentencing generally within 6-8 weeks.
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