Frequently Asked Questions
What to do if contacted by the Defendant:
Contact law enforcement immediately: St. Joseph Police Department if you live in the city, or Buchanan County Sheriff’s Department if you live in the county. Inform the officer that you are a victim or witness in a pending case. Report to them that the defendant has contacted you. Then notify our office at 271-1480.
What is a subpoena?
A subpoena is an official court order inviting you to appear at the time and place it specifies - usually to provide testimony. You should have your subpoena with you when you appear. Failure to appear constitutes contempt of court. If you should move or change your telephone number after receiving a subpoena, please contact the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office immediately.
What is an arrest warrant?
An arrest warrant is an order signed by a judge, authorizing the police to arrest a person believed to have committed a crime.
What happens to the person accused of a crime?
After arrest, the defendant (the accused) is arraigned in associate circuit court. The arraignment is to review the amount of bail; to furnish the defendant with a copy of the charge, to see that legal counsel is provided either by the defendant or the court; and to set a date for the preliminary hearing. Under Missouri law, the preliminary hearing must be set within ten days after the arraignment. At times during a proceeding either the defendant, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office or the Court on its own motion may seek a continuance (a delay) of the hearing for a number of reasons.
What is the purpose of bail?
Bail is cash or a security bond to assure the defendant’s appearance in court at the next scheduled hearing. The amount of value of bail is set by the court and may vary depending on a number of factors including the seriousness of the offense charged.
What if I change my mind about prosecuting or testifying?
A crime committed against any person is a crime against the state. Our community and each of us as individuals deserve protection against criminal wrong-doers. For this reason, the court can compel testimony of a victim or witness to a crime. A great deal of costly work will proceed and be wasted if the victim does not testify. The loss of a case because a victim or a witness drops out, is a tragedy. Should you have any reluctance about testifying in a case, please discuss your concerns with the Victim Witness Advocate or the prosecutor handling the case. They will try to help with any problems, doubts or questions you may have.
How are witnesses called?
The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office will attempt to reach you by telephone. If you request, we will send you a subpoena to make your release from work easier. The subpoena will specify the time and place for you to appear and what, if anything, you should bring. Should any continuances (delays) of your case occur, you will be notified.
What if someone threatens me to drop the charges?
Only on extremely rare occasions are witnesses threatened. If anyone has threatened you in connection with the case in which you are involved, either in or out of court, he/she may have committed a new crime. Immediately contact your local Police Department or Sheriff’s Office and report the threat and then tell the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
What if the defense attorney contacts me about the case?
You may be contacted by the defense attorney or a private investigator hired by the defense attorney. We cannot advise you to refuse to speak with persons connected with the defendant, but you have the right to refuse if you so desire. Additionally, you may request that an attorney from our office be present when you are being questioned.
Can I be compensated for losses I have suffered as a victim?
Your insurance may provide coverage for personal injury or property loss due to a crime. If your report of a crime results in the offender being placed on probation or parole, the court may order the offender to make restitution - to pay for the cost of your injuries, damages or loss. An order does not guarantee restitution and many times, it is not possible. However, this office will make every effort to see that restitution is paid when ordered.The Victim Compensation Act provides monetary compensation for certain uninsured out of pocket losses, as a result of personal injury. Compensation may also be provided to rape victims for the uninsured cost of hospital rape examinations.
What's in it for me?
First and foremost, you will have done your best to make our community a safe place to live and work. You may sometimes feel frustrated and discouraged - the process of justice does take time. But, some of the delays you may encounter are part of the system that protects your rights if someone accuses you of a crime. In our country, every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
To protect this right, our system of criminal justice provides many steps.
(Click here for the Felony and Misdemeanor Trial Guide) (PDF)
What is a docket call?
A docket call is a short hearing held in a pending case. At this hearing, the prosecutor, the defendant’s attorney, and defendant are required to be present. The judge asks what the status is and what remains to be done. If the case is ready for final disposition a plea or trial date will be set. If an additional docket call is needed, one will be scheduled.
What is a preliminary hearing?
A preliminary hearing pertains to felony cases; taking the form of a mini-trial in which testimony is taken under oath and where the judge, defendant and defendant’s attorney, the prosecutor, and any victims or witnesses subpoenaed are present. At the preliminary hearing, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has to establish that: 1) a crime has been committed in Buchanan County; and 2) probable cause exists to believe that the defendant committed the crime. During this proceeding, the defendant’s attorney may cross-examine the state’s witnesses and produce any evidence, if he wishes. If probable cause is established, the judge will order that the defendant be “bound over” to Circuit Court for trial. In some cases, the defendant may waive (not demand) the preliminary hearing and the case will then be sent directly to Circuit Court for trial.
What does a victim or witness do in a preliminary hearing?
If you are called or subpoenaed to testify at a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor will ask that you take the witness chair and, under oath, answer questions about who you are and what you know about the case.
Are witnesses permitted to be in the courtroom before and after testifying?
As a witness, you may watch the proceedings unless you are excluded from the courtroom by the judge. In any event, witnesses should not discuss their testimony with each other.
How does a case get dismissed?
If the judge decides probable cause has not been established, the court then dismisses the case. This means that all legal action has come to an end and the defendant is released. This may also occur if witnesses, such as you, fail to appear to testify in criminal cases. Cases may also be dismissed by the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
What is a deposition?
A deposition is the recorded testimony of a witness, given under oath in the presence of both the defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney. The purpose of taking a deposition is to determine and preserve the testimony of a witness.
What happens in a trial?
In a trial, the prosecutor (from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office), presents the case for the state and has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did commit the alleged crime. The defendant may present evidence, although he has no obligation to do so. Furthermore the defendant may not be compelled to testify. The trial may be either before a judge, or before a jury.
How and when is sentencing determined?
A defendant who has been found guilty or has pleaded guilty is sentenced by the judge presiding at the trial. Using the state statues as a guideline (sentences are expressed in terms of minimums, maximums and other options), the judge sentences the defendant in a manner appropriate to the crime and other circumstances related to the case. The defendant may be sentenced to jail or placed on probation or ordered to make restitution or ordered to pay court costs and/or a fine.
Does the Prosecuting Attorney's Office really care about me?
Our Criminal Justice System depends on your patience and commitment. While some delays and frustrations are unavoidable, we work to minimize their inconvenience to you. In recent times, the “rights” of defendants in criminal cases have been emphasized to the point of neglecting the rights of victims and witnesses. Concern about you and your rights is the whole idea behind Prosecuting Attorney Dwight K. Scroggins, Jr. providing Victim/Witness Services.