Pretrial Criminal Justice Process

Pre-Trial 2017-10-24T14:33:45+00:00

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Reporting a Crime

A victim who decides to report a crime should contact MPD by calling 911 (used to report crimes even if there is not an emergency). Also certain crimes can be reported online. Victims should keep the police report number and the names and phone numbers of the police officers they speak to for their records. This information can be recorded in the Case Diary. When a crime is reported, MPD will connect the victim to its Victims Services Branch, which is staffed by civilian victim specialists who are the primary contacts for victims and their families throughout MPD’s criminal investigation.

Investigation

An MPD detective (not the MPD police officer who responds to the crime) will be assigned to investigate the case. Sometimes a specialized unit will investigate the case, such as the Sex Assault Unit or the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Unit. MPD attempts to make investigations as efficient as possible, but they do take time. As the investigation proceeds, victims have the right to get updates on their cases. Some victims may think that their cases are progressing slowly. Real-life criminal investigations do not happen as quickly as they may appear to on television police dramas.

When a victim’s property is important to an investigation, it may be held by MPD as evidence. MPD understands this process can be inconvenient and strives to complete all necessary tests and investigations as quickly as possible. The investigating officer should tell the victim why the property is being held and how long MPD expects to hold it.

Arrest

After MPD determines that a crime has been committed, a suspect must be identified and arrested for the case to proceed. Sometimes a suspect is identified and arrested at the scene of the crime. Other times an arrest occurs after an investigation, which can take weeks, months, or years, depending on the case. Sometimes, unfortunately, no suspect is identified and arrested.

Prosecutor Decides Whether to File Criminal Charges

Within 24 to 48 hours after a person has been arrested, MPD presents information about the crime to the prosecuting agency, which decides if criminal charges will be filed in court. In D.C., there are two prosecuting agencies: The local Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the federal U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (USAO-DC). See below for more information about these agencies. If charges are filed, a victim advocate who works for the prosecutor is available to support the victim through the trial process. It is important that the victim respond to phone calls and return any messages from the prosecutor’s office.

If Criminal Charges Are Not Filed

If the prosecutor does not file charges, the accused must be released. If this happens, MPD or the prosecutor should explain to the victim why charges will not be filed. Even if charges are not filed, the victim can still receive assistance from MPD’s Victims Services Branch and can still contact the USAO-DC Victim Witness Assistance Unit for referrals and guidance. Also, a victim can still seek a Civil Protection Order against the accused or file a civil lawsuit. For more information about Civil Protection Orders, click here. For more information about civil lawsuits, click here.

Prosecuting Agencies in D.C.

Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia (OAG)

OAG prosecutes the following categories of crimes:

  • Criminal offenses being tried in the juvenile justice system, including sexual offenses;
  • Criminal traffic offenses, including reckless driving;
  • Certain weapons offenses;
  • Quality of life offenses, including indecent exposure;
  • D.C. municipal violations, such as counterfeit vehicle tags; and
  • Select fraud offenses, including welfare fraud.

OAG’s Public Safety division prosecutes violations of Civil Protection Orders. OAG has a Victim Witness Assistance Unit staffed by Victim Witness Specialists, who act as the primary contact for victims and their families.

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (USAO-DC)

USAO-DC prosecutes most crimes committed in D.C., including both local and federal crimes.

USAO-DC’s Criminal Division prosecutes the following categories of federal crimes:

  • National security offenses;
  • Violent crimes and drug trafficking;
  • Fraud and public corruption; and
  • Asset forfeiture and money laundering.

USAO-DC’s Superior Court Division prosecutes most local crimes that occur in D.C., including:

  • Homicide;
  • Sexual assault;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Other violent crimes;
  • Theft;
  • Weapons offenses; and
  • Drug offenses.

The Victim Witness Assistance Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office provides comprehensive support and assistance to victims and their families, including court accompaniment, safety planning, witness security assessment, travel/lodging coordination for out-of-town victims, emotional support and crisis response, notification services, and referrals for counseling, housing, transportation, crime victims’ compensation, and physical or mental health needs.