Criminal Division

One of the most frequently asked questions that our office receives is how a felony case proceeds through the Criminal Justice System for prosecution. Below is a basic flow chart to help you understand the mechanics of a Criminal Felony Prosecution. Below the flow chart is a list of commonly used terms in the Criminal Justice System and their definitions.

Terms Commonly Used in the Criminal Justice System

The formal hearing is where the accused enters a plea of guilty or not guilty.
Bench Trial:
A trial in which the Judge is the finder of fact, not a jury.
Bound Over:
When the case is transferred from the District Court to the Grand Jury.
The mechanism allows a defendant out of jail pending their trial.
Bond Revocation:
If the defendant is accused of violating any conditions placed on the bond order that allows the defendant out of jail, a hearing takes place to determine the consequences (usually return to jail).
Contempt of Court:
When a person violates a civil order of the court.
District Attorney’s Office:
The office prosecutes all felony cases and county misdemeanors on behalf of the State of Alabama.
The person who is accused of a criminal act.
Defense Attorney:
The attorney for the person accused of a crime.
The term describes the official procedure for a defendant or their attorney to obtain legal information about the State’s case.
Deferred Prosecution Programs:
Programs for defendants who are first-time offenders for certain crimes. Successful completion would likely result in the dismissal of criminal charges.
Grand Jury:
A jury of 18 people hears evidence presented by the District Attorney’s Office regarding felony charges. The charges are drawn on a document called an indictment. It is the legal mechanism used to determine if there is enough probable cause to move a felony case from District Court to Circuit Court for a trial.
Habitual Offender:
A person who has a recidivist record will be identified as a habitual offender and may face enhanced punishment.
A formal charging document produced by the District Attorney’s Office through the Grand Jury is submitted to the Clerk of Court as the official charge(s) against a defendant. These are the charges that the State must prove in a trial.
Jury Trial:
A trial in which a jury of peers is the finder of fact.
Procedures in which the prosecutor and defense attorney argue in front of a Judge about what precisely is and is not allowed in a pending trial.
No Bill:
The term is used when a Grand Jury does not find sufficient evidence to proceed with charges against a defendant.
Nolle Pros:
The procedure in which the prosecutor may dismiss a case after charges have been filed with the Court.
Preliminary Hearing:
A hearing in front of a District Court Judge to gain more information from the parties involved relates to probable cause.
Probable Cause:
The measure of the standard is required before a District Court Judge can bind a case over to Grand Jury or issue a warrant.
An alternative to jail often includes various conditions that the defendant must comply with—often involving counseling and treatment.
Probation Revocation:
A hearing to determine if the defendant has violated their probation conditions and subsequent consequences.
The attorney for the State of Alabama.
Reasonable Doubt:
The level of proof required by the State to prove the charges at trial.
The amount of money the Judge orders the defendant to pay at sentencing to reimburse a victim for out-of-pocket expenses.
True Bill:
The term is used when a Grand Jury finds sufficient evidence to proceed with charges against a defendant.
Victim Compensation:
A State of Alabama program provides financial support for victims of crime for out-of-pocket expenses related to a crime. Types of expenses can include the medical, funeral, mental health, lost wages, and loss of support.

Wanda L. Lear
Choctaw County
Trial Coordinator

Miranda S. Criswell
Clarke County
Trial Coordinator

Summers G. Hill
Washington County
Trial Coordinator

Donald L. Lolley

For questions concerning
criminal cases, contact
(251) 275-3144