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The Criminal Justice System

The decision to file a police report and work within the Criminal Justice System can be a scary and overwhelming one. If you decide that this course of action is one you want to pursue, the Campus Victim Advocate is here to help you understand the process and will stay with you every step of the way.

If a victim reports a sexual assault to law enforcement, the following can occur: law enforcement investigation, district attorney charging decision, plea bargain or trial, sentencing by the court, and imprisonment and/or supervision of the defendant. Not all cases make it through this entire process.

  • The suspect may be held accountable for their actions
  • May bring survivor a sense of closure
  • May receive Crime Victim Compensation (up to $40,000 for expenses related to the crime)
  • Some victims believe reporting will help other victims
  • The victim can have support throughout the process
  • Reporting can validate the victim's feelings
  • No guarantee of charge and conviction
  • Victim may be unhappy with sentence
  • Privacy may not be protected; family and friends may find out
  • A conviction may not bring closure
  • Victim may not feel supported or believed by those they interact with in the criminal justice system
  • Victims may feel they have to relive the assault over and over

The Investigation: The following are common components of a sexual assault investigation: interview by a law enforcement officer, sexual assault nurse forensic exam (rape kit), longer interview by a detective, interview of the suspect, investigation into corroborating evidence, and sometimes, the collection of additional physical evidence from the scene. Law enforcement agencies are required to allow a victim advocate to attend any of these interviews/proceedings at the request of the victim.

The District Attorney: The district attorney will only charge the defendant with a crime if they believe there is enough evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.

The Court Process: If the defendant is charged the following will take place:
Pre-Trial Proceedings: Many proceedings take place before trial. The court will establish bail and bond, at which time it determines whether to keep the defendant incarcerated pending trial or what amount of money, if posted, will ensure their presence at future court proceedings. The court will also impose bail conditions on the defendant. The defendant must enter a plea: guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendre (defendant admits there is enough evidence to prove the assault, but doesn't admit guilt). The prosecution must also show the court that there is enough evidence to go forward with the case. The court will also try to resolve evidentiary issues before trial, such as whether evidence should be excluded by the rape shield law (protects victim's privacy by preventing the introduction of irrelevant evidence of past sexual behavior).

Trial: The trial includes opening arguments, the presentation of evidence by the prosecution and defense, and the closing argument. Each side can present factual expert witnesses, each of whom is questioned by the prosecutor, then cross-examined by the defense. After the closing arguments, the jury (12 people in a criminal felony case) must come to a verdict of guilty or acquittal. In Wisconsin, the jury must unanimously agree on the verdict.

Sentencing: In Wisconsin, a defendant convicted of a crime can receive probation or a prison sentence followed by a period of supervision. If the judge issues a prison sentence, it must fall within a range prescribed by statute and must be followed by a period of supervision within a range prescribed by statute. The court may also impose a fine. For example, a defendant convicted of second degree sexual assault, a Class C felony, can be fined up to $100,000, be imprisoned for up to 25 years and receive up to 15 years supervision, but the later two combined can't exceed 40 years. At sentencing, a victim has the right to submit a victim impact statement to the court describing the economic, emotional, and physical impact of the crime.

Local Hotlines

24-Hr Sexual Assault Hotline
(920) 722-8150
24-Hr Domestic Abuse Hotline
(920) 235-5998

Contact Information
Name: Ciara Hill
Phone: (920) 424-0267
Hours: M-F: 8:30am-4:30pm
Office: Student Success Center, Room 231

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