Q: What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
A: A felony is a major crime that may be punished with a minimum sentence of one year in the Department of Corrections and a maximum of life imprisonment or the death penalty, depending on the severity of the crime committed. A misdemeanor is a less serious crime that is punishable of confinement in the county jail for no more than twelve months, a fine of not more than $500.00 or both.
Q: What is a preliminary hearing?
A: A preliminary hearing is a legal process where the district court judge decides if there is enough evidence to send a defendant’s charges to the grand jury. The judge, the defendant’s attorney, the prosecutor and any necessary victims/ witnesses are present at the proceeding. The prosecutor must prove to the judge that there is enough evidence to show that a crime has been committed. This involves presenting a minimal amount of evidence which will justify further proceedings. If the prosecutor establishes sufficient evidence, the case will be bound to the grand jury.
Q: What is a grand jury?
A: The grand jury consists of a panel of citizens summoned by the circuit court to review any criminal charges brought against the defendant and to hear evidence from witnesses. The grand jury’s role is to decide if there is sufficient evidence to go forward with prosecution of the charges against the defendant at the circuit court level. Grand jury witnesses are usually made up of law enforcement officials who present evidence from their reports. Testimony from victims and/or witnesses is not usually required; however, the grand jury may request their testimony. A subpoena will be issued by this office for all witnesses necessary at the grand jury.
Q: What is an arraignment?
A: This is the first appearance a defendant makes in court after the indictment has been returned. At the arraignment, the judge will advise the defendant of the charges brought against him and advise the defendant of his rights. The defendant is the only person that needs to be present for the arraignment. There will be NO evidence heard by the judge at this court event. Therefore, the victim and/or witnesses do not need to be there, but certainly may attend if they so desire.
Q: What is a pre-trial conference?
A: A pre-trial conference is a proceeding in which the judge determines if the defense and prosecution have come to an agreement on a plea of guilty. If so, the judge swears in the defendant and takes the plea of guilty on that date. If not, a trial date is typically scheduled for weeks or months in the future when the attorneys, judge, law enforcement witnesses and the courtroom are all available. If more time is needed, the judge may continue (postpone) the pre-trial conference to another date.
Q: Do I have to testify at a trial if I don’t want to?
A: If you are the defendant, you have the right to remain silent, and the judge and jury are not allowed to hold your silence against you. If you are a witness or the victim, you MUST testify, if subpoenaed and called as a witness.
Q: Do I have to testify in front of the defendant?
A: Yes. The defendant may be present in court to hear what all witnesses have to say about him. However, the defendant is not present at the grand jury, unless the grand jury requests his testimony.
Q: What if someone threatens me?
A: Concerns about your well-being and safety after being victimized or witnessing a crime are normal. If you have any fears or receive any threats concerning your involvement in a case, you should immediately contact law enforcement. In an emergency situation, call 911. Any person who threatens or harasses you during the prosecution of a case, or even beforehand, is obstructing justice and has committed a crime.
Q: Why am I a witness if I didn’t see the crime happen?
A: Witnesses are not limited to “eyewitnesses”. Witnesses may be called because they actually saw or heard a crime occur, but they may also know something about a piece of evidence, or may possess information that contradicts a witness’ testimony. You might think that what you know about the case is insignificant, but sometimes small pieces of information are required to determine what really happened
Q: What happens if I don’t appear in court and I have been subpoenaed?
A: Failure to appear at the time and place specified on your subpoena may result in your being fined, jailed, or both for contempt of court by the judge.
Q: What if the defense attorney contacts me?
A: In representing his client, a defense attorney may contact you and want to talk about the case. You may discuss the case with the defense if you wish, but you are not required to do so. Please remember that if you do choose to talk to anyone about your case, you should always request proper identification and an explanation of the interview’s purpose.
Q: Can I get restitution for my loss due to a crime?
A: If you have suffered a monetary loss, such as damage to property or medical bills, because of the crime committed against you, the judge may order restitution in the amount of your loss if the defendant is found guilty.
Q: I believe a crime has been committed. What do I do? Do I report the crime directly to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office?
A: If you feel a crime has been committed, contact the Paducah Police Department, the McCracken County Sheriff’s Department or the Kentucky State Police. If you need to report a crime in progress, call 911. It is the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies to investigate a crime and issue any Arrest Warrants, if the evidence indicates a crime has been committed.
Paducah Police Department: (270) 444-8548
McCracken County Sheriff’s Department: (270) 444-4719
Kentucky State Police: (270) 575-7228