The Savannah Chatham Family Violence Council

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WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
(Chatham County, GA)

 

WHEN YOU CALL THE POLICE…

Usually two officers respond to domestic disturbance complaints.   A supervisor will also respond if violence, injury or potentially life-threatening circumstances exist. 

If the police have reason to believe a crime has been committed and the perpetrator is   
identified, the primary aggressor will be arrested and charged. (Possible charges include criminal trespass, battery, assault, interference with custody, false imprisonment, and/or stalking.)

The police leave copies of referral brochures with everyone involved in domestic disturbance cases, even if no arrest was made.  Save this brochure because it has your police case report number on it.

 

HELPFUL HINTS IF YOU MAKE A POLICE REPORT

1.   Make a copy of the police report for your records.
2.   Call Recorder’s Court (652-7734) to ask when the warrant is likely to be served.
3.   Develop a safety plan or find a safe place to stay.  (Click on the “Safety Planning” link for suggestions.).
4.   Take pictures of your injuries, and keep them in a safe place.
5.   Call SAFE Shelter Outreach (651-0004) or Victim-Witness Assistance Program (652-7329) for assistance in taking
      out a warrant.

 

AFTER THE ARREST

Bond is usually set within hours of arrest for most misdemeanors (such as simple battery).  After posting bond, the defendant will be released unless there is a special order or condition, such as a temporary protective order or no-contact order.  To be notified when the defendant is released, call Jail Records at 652-7734. 

If the defendant is charged with a felony (a more serious crime such as aggravated assault or aggravated stalking), an attorney has to ask the court for a bond.  Someone from Victim-Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) will try to contact you to let you know when a bond hearing is scheduled, although you do not have to attend.  (PLEASE NOTE:  VWAP can call you only if you gave correct contact information to the police.)

As the victim, you will be subpoenaed to a preliminary hearing in Recorder’s Court (first floor of the county courthouse), whether or not you wish to press charges.  Advocates from VWAP and SAFE Shelter Outreach will be there to offer you support and information.  (SAFE Shelter will have already received a copy of the police report.)  Advocates can also help you with a victim compensation application, to help pay for any medical treatment or counseling you may need.     

 

IF AN ARREST WAS NOT MADE AT THE TIME OF THE INCIDENT…

…you can still take out a warrant.  Go to the police department in the city or town where the abuse occurred and ask for a free copy of the police report.   Take the report to Magistrate’s Court (3rd floor of the courthouse, 133 Montgomery Street) between 8:00 and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.  You will be asked to provide information about the suspect, as well as names and addresses of witnesses.  There is no charge for filing domestic violence warrants.

After the warrant is taken out, a court hearing is scheduled and you will be subpoenaed to testify.  Sometimes a pre-warrant hearing is also required, at which the accused may or may not be present and the judge will decide whether a warrant should be issued.  If a pre-warrant hearing is held, you will have to be present in court twice for your case.

There is no assistant district attorney in Magistrate’s Court misdemeanor preliminary hearings.  However, in felony cases an assistant district attorney is present.

 

DROPPING THE CHARGES

A crime is officially committed against the State of Georgia, rather than against an individual.  Once charges have been filed and someone has been arrested, the victim cannot drop the charges.  It is up to the police, assistant district attorney, or judge to dismiss the charges.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT COURT PROCEEDINGS

Domestic violence is a crime and you have legal rights.  However, before making the decision to file criminal charges or civil procedures, you need to be committed to seeing the action through.  We understand that fear may prevent you from following through with the procedures, but it is important to know you have support through SAFE Shelter and VWAP. You are not alone. 

After the arrest, you can call a Victim-Witness advocate to ask about what to expect at court.  You may request to meet with the assistant district attorney prior to the preliminary court hearing.  The advocate and assistant district attorney will be present at the preliminary hearing.

 

RECORDER'S COURT

If no one was arrested, you can go to the police department, ask for a copy of the police report, and request a warrant.   The police will investigate to determine whether there is probable cause for an arrest warrant.  If there is, the police will prepare a request for a warrant.  You will be notified by Recorder's Court (room 104 of the courthouse, 133 Montgomery Street) when to appear before the judge to sign the warrant. 

You may need to provide more information about the perpetrator, such as home and work address, and date of birth, if you know it.  There is no filing fee for domestic violence criminal warrants.

After a warrant is signed and arrest made, you will be subpoenaed to testify, so be sure to give Recorder's Court the address where you want your subpoena to be mailed.  This address should be on the warrant.   You should receive a subpoena within a few weeks after the accused is arrested.  If you do not receive a subpoena, call Recorder’s Court at 652-7734.

If an arrest was made at the scene, the police sign the warrant and the victim will be subpoenaed to a preliminary hearing.

The District Attorney's Office will prosecute the charges in the preliminary hearing.

 

MISDEMEANOR CASES

Misdemeanor charges, such as simple battery, are punishable by a maximum of one year in jail.  All parties (including police) will be subpoenaed to court.  The judge will hear the facts of the case.  If the batterer pleads guilty, and there is no record of prior convictions, he will likely be placed on probation.  As a condition of probation, the judge may order the batterer to attend a 24-week Family Violence Intervention Program through Parent & Child and order that there be no additional threats of violence.

If the batterer pleads not guilty at the preliminary hearing, the case will be bound over to State Court and an arraignment hearing will be set in State Court at a later date.  (You do not have to attend the arraignment.)   If the batterer pleads not guilty in State Court, a trial date will be set and the assistant district attorney or Victim-Witness advocate will contact you regarding the trial.

 

FELONY CASES

Felonies are more serious charges, such as aggravated assault or aggravated battery.
All parties (including police) will be subpoenaed to court. If the defendant has bonded out of jail, the case is automatically sent to Superior Court and no preliminary hearing is scheduled.

If the defendant remains in jail, a preliminary hearing is scheduled. The judge will hear the case to determine whether there is probable cause a crime was committed.  If probable cause is established, the case is sent to Superior Court.

At the Superior Court level, the case will be assigned to an assistant district attorney. You and any witnesses will receive letters from VWAP to let you know which assistant district attorney is assigned to your case, and what will happen next.

 

SMALL TOWN COURTS

If an arrest is made in one of Chatham’s small towns (Garden City, Thunderbolt, Port Wentworth, Tybee, or Bloomingdale), the judge at that court will only determine probable cause, not guilt or innocence.   The case will then be sent downtown to State Court for misdemeanors or Superior Court for felonies.
VICTIM-WITNESS ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

Victim-Witness Assistance Program sends case status letters and provides information about court procedures to victims and witnesses in all cases. 

If at any time your phone number or address changes, it is very important that you notify VWAP at 652-7329. 

© 2009 The Savannah Chatham Family Violence Council                                                                       Web Site by Studio Martin

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