Friday, January 10, 2014

Hot Mess's Beginners Guide to the Players and The Field of our Legal System... Part 1

Before I start examining cases and posting things, I figured that a lot of people may not be too familiar with all the legal terms and the roles of all of the players in the court system game; especially since there are some definite differences between the Federal, State, and Local court systems.  I will first start out with some basic terms that are the same across the board.  

Lets use this little storyline as an example to make things a little bit clearer.  (When you have names and situations, its a lot easier to identify roles and explain what is what, than if I just gave you a whole list of definitions.  The following fact pattern is 100% fictional and only to be used for my explanation! lol.  Just had to use that disclaimer!) HERE WE GO!!!!!

Hot Mess lives with her roommate Glitter.  One day, they invite their friend Sparkle over to play cards and drink some wine.  Things get heated over one of the card games and in a rage, Sparkle pulls out a gun and shoots both Hot Mess and Glitter.  They both died at the scene.  Sparkle drops the gun in a panic, leaving it at the scene, and speeds home to figure out what she should do. Should she call the police and turn herself in, should she pretend it didn't happen and wait to see how it plays out, or does she try to cover her tracks and make up an alibi and try to draw the attention away from her. Since Hot Mess and Glitter lived in an apartment building, a neighbor had heard the gunshots, but in the neighborhood they lived in, there was always gunshots being heard so the neighbor didn't think it was significant, however, Hot Mess and Glitter were very social with their neighbors, so the next morning that same neighbor knocked on their door.  When she did not get an answer at the door and neither had picked up the phone or their cell phones, the neighbor checked outside and saw both cars were still in the same spot they were last night.  Somewhat worried (as this was not typical of Hot Mess and Glitter), she went back to their apartment and found that their front door was not locked.  She walked in, calling out their names as she did.  As soon as she had opened the door all the way and stepped inside, she saw both Hot Mess and Glitter lying on the floor in pools of blood.  Immediately, she called the police and they arrived at the scene within a few minutes.  The neighbor suddenly felt extremely guilty because she had heard the gunshots last night, but had not even given them a second thought because she thought they came from outside.  If she had gone to their apartment last night, she may have been able to save them.  The police assure her that she had done the right thing and that even if she had called them sooner, it would not have mattered as they died right at the scene.  The police look around the apartment and find 3 wine glasses on the table and the gun on the floor.  They collected the gun and all 3 glasses and put them in evidence bags to be tested for fingerprints and DNA. After looking at the girls cell phone logs and bringing in some neighbors, family, and other friends in for questioning, they brought in Sparkle.  Sparkle's fingerprints were matched to the gun and her DNA was matched to the 3rd wine glass.  Sparkle was arrested and charged with both murders.  So, now that Sparkle is charged, what happens next???????
Using this fact pattern, we can identify the roles of several people and then discuss what will happen now that Sparkle is charged and will be going to court.

First, since this is a criminal case, we are dealing with the Criminal Court System.  The Civil Court System is completely separate and has separate rules and procedures.  The major difference between the two courts is that the Criminal Court seeks punishment via a jail or prison sentence, probation, or through a fine for breaking a law.  The Civil Court system seeks punishment via money or an order forcing the other party to do or not do what the subject of the case. The disputes in Civil Court are based on rights and duties that people and companies owe to each other (picture the cases you see on Judge Judy and People's Court and such). This case is DEFINITELY a case for the Criminal Court because murder is breaking the law.

I will do another post that will cover the Civil Court System when I begin , so this post will focus on the specifics for Criminal Law.

Since this was a crime, it is the government who will bring the charges against Sparkle because she violated a law that was put in place by the government.  So, the government is called the prosecutor and Sparkle, the one the charges are brought against, is called the Defendant.  When you watch a lot of the live trial coverage or even in books or newspaper articles, they often just use "Prosecutor" and "Defendant."  Before I studied the law, when I would see just "Prosecutor" or "Defendant" I had no clue which was which unless they used the actual parties names.  Cases that are brought in the trial court are also named in the format "Prosecutor" v. "Defendant."  Lets say that Hot Mess, Glitter, and Sparkle all lived in Illinois.  This case name would be "State of Illinois" v. "Sparkle".  If it were a federal case, it would say "United States" v. "Sparkle".  The prosecutor is always listed first and the Defendant listed second.

Prosecutor = person who brings the charges against someone (i.e. United States, State of Illinois, etc)
Defendant = person who is CHARGED (may not be guilty, that comes later) with the crime committed.

After the police give the case over to the Prosecutor, the prosecutor actually gets to decide whether or not they will actually bring charges against the Defendant.  They base it on things like how much evidence is there, is it an open and shut case, would the case actually hold up in front of the judge and/or jury or would it be wasting resources with an already over-clogged court system and case load? The prosecutor may decide to actually try to do a plea-bargain with the Defendant (Sparkle) that would offer something like less jail time in exchange for a guilty plea and then Sparkle would not have to go to court for a whole trial.  If Sparkle does not want to accept the plea deal offered by the Prosecutor, then the case moves on.

Right after Sparkle is arrested, an arraignment hearing is set where Sparkle can either plead guilty or not guilty to the crime she is charged with, and if the judge will grant bail, it is at this hearing that the amount is set.  At the arraignment, Sparkle and the Judge are told what crimes she is being charged with and evidence of these crimes that the Prosecutor has against her.  By pleading not guilty at that time, Sparkle has the opportunity to see if more evidence can be found or if her attorney can advise her of any type of defenses she can use which may reduce her sentence or even help to find her not guilty of the crime. The judge will set the date for the preliminary hearing of this case as well.

At the Preliminary Hearing, Sparkle will have had time to meet with her attorneys and determine what evidence the Prosecutor has and what evidence Sparkle and her attorneys have a defense for.  The Preliminary Hearing is held so that the Judge is given the opportunity to hear the evidence the Prosecution has and any arguments Sparkle may have against that evidence, and determine if there is enough evidence to provide probable cause that Sparkle MAY BE guilty of the crimes she is charged with.  If she is charged with more than one, the Judge may eliminate (or dismiss) some of the charges at that time if the Judge does not think that there is enough evidence to provide probable cause of Sparkle possibly being guilty of those charges.  If the Judge finds that there IS NOT enough evidence on any of the charges, then the case is dismissed and Sparkle goes free.

Lets say that in this case, the Judge does find probably cause that Sparkle committed 2 counts of murder (One count for the murder of Hot Mess and the second count for the murder of Glitter), then the case moves on to the next phase.

What about Hot Mess and Glitter's families?  The Prosecutor will usually work with them and do they best they can do to find the proper punishment for the murder of their daughters, but they are not considered to be the ones charging Sparkle.  The Prosecutor makes the charges ON BEHALF of the family, and the government in the criminal case.

What about the neighbor?  The neighbor may become a witness in the case, but that would be the only involvement the neighbor would have in the case.

The police officers that responded to the call and arrived at the scene?  They too will become potential witnesses in the case and can be called to the stand during the trial.  Otherwise, once they conclude their investigation and hand the evidence (the gun, fingerprint matches, the wine glasses, DNA results, etc) over to the Prosecutor to initiate formal charges, they no longer have involvement in the case.

The next post will discuss what happens from here!  Any questions?  Please feel free to ask!  Either comment below or email me at

~Bipolar Hot Mess~

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