Understanding the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system can be confusing for victims and witnesses of crime to navigate. Resources on this page will help you walk through the process step by step. Each case is unique, so if your case has been charged by a local District Attorney’s office, we recommend contacting the Victim/Witness Specialist assigned to your case. You can locate this contact information here


How does the process work?

Every time a crime is reported, the criminal justice process begins. The following flow charts demonstrate the typical path from the time a crime is reported through the completion of a defendant’s sentencing:


The criminal justice system often involves confusing language. You can look up common terms in our glossary.


Throughout this process, a victim of a crime has specific rights. To learn more, visit our page on Victim & Witness Rights or contact the Victim Resource Center.


My case has gained media attention or I want to contact the media about my case. Is there anything I should know?


As a victim of this crime, I have suffered financially. What are my options?

The Crime Victim Compensation Program can assist eligible victims of certain crimes with specific out-of-pocket expenses. Learn more about the program here.


You may be able to request that the offender pay for some expenses. If you report a crime and the offender is found guilty, the court may order the offender to make restitution; that is, to pay for the cost of certain expenses you incur because of the crime, such as injuries, damages or stolen property.


If charges are issued, you will be contacted by Victim/Witness services in the county in which the crime occurred for restitution information. If you are uncertain about the status of your case, you can contact your local Victim/Witness Specialist.


I was ordered restitution but I have not been receiving payments. What should I do?

Restitution is ordered after conviction by a judge.  It is collected from offenders by different agencies depending on whether the offender is put in prison, is on probation or parole, or if the offender was under the supervision of the Department of Corrections (DOC).  For matters related to offenders under the supervision of the DOC, contact the DOC Office of Victim Services & Programs with questions about the status of restitution.