OVERVIEW OF A FELONY CASE
This section is to give people a quick overview of how the felony court system works. The next section of this web page includes frequently asked questions about how the prosecuting attorney's office handles felony cases.
Complaints and Indictments
Felony cases begin either through the filing of a document with the court called a Complaint or through the finding of the Indictment. Both types of documents are prepared by the prosecutor's office.
A Complaint is a document in which an individual person accuses the defendant of having committed a crime or crimes. It is usually signed by the prosecutor. However, they can also be signed by any other person who has knowledge of the facts surrounding the crime or crimes charged in the Complaint. This person is called a "complaining witness."
An Indictment is a document by which a grand jury accuses a person of having committed a crime or crimes. It is issued by the grand jury at the conclusion of their consideration of a case in a grand jury proceeding.
Nearly all cases in Bingham County are initiated through the Complaint process, rather than grand jury Indictments. This is because the Complaint process is faster, less burdensome, and far less costly to the taxpayers.
Summons and Arrest Warrant
Defendants can be compelled to appear in court either by serving the defendant with a summons or an arrest warrant. A summons is a document which is handed to the defendant by the Sheriff's Office. It commands the defendant to appear at court at a particular time and place.
Defendants can also be arrested and brought to court based on an arrest warrant. An arrest warrant is issued by a judge. It directs a peace officer to arrest the defendant and bring them to court. Arrest warrants can only be issued if the issuing judge has already been provided with evidence that establishes probable cause to believe that the defendant committed a crime.
Judges are required to give preference to the issuance of a warrant over a summons when they are asked to issue a search warrant. This preference for a summons over a warrant is set out in Idaho Criminal Rule 4.
Initial Appearance Before Magistrate
If the defendant has been charged through the filing of a Complaint, the defendant's first appearance in court is called an initial appearance. This hearing is held before a magistrate judge.
During the hearing, the defendant is informed of the charge or charges filed against them, the maximum possible penalties that the court could impose if the defendant pleads or is found guilty, and the defendant's constitutional rights. The court will also ask the defendant if they intend to hire their own attorney of if they need to have an attorney appointed to represent them. If a defendant does not have sufficient income to afford to hire an attorney, i.e., the defendant is indigent, the court will appoint an attorney to represent the defendant. In cases where the defendant has been arrested, the court also discusses any bond that has already been set by the court or requested by the prosecution. The defendant is not asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty at this stage of the proceeding. During the hearing, the magistrate will schedule a time for a hearing called a "preliminary hearing."
A preliminary hearing is a hearing in which the prosecution is required to produce witnesses and other evidence to establish probable cause that the defendant committed a crime. A failure to provide sufficient evidence will result in dismissal of the charge or charges. This hearing is, essentially, a mini-trial. The magistrate is required to consider whether the prosecution has sufficient evidence by which a reasonable person could believe that the defendant committed the crime or crimes charged. The evidence does not have to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge also does not weigh any defenses of the defendant against the evidence produced by the prosecution. The comparing of the evidence from both parties is left for trial.
The magistrate will dismiss any charge or charges in the Complaint which are not supported by sufficient evidence. If the prosecution produces sufficient evidence, the magistrate will direct the defendant to appear in District Court to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charge or charges. The magistrate issues what is called a Commitment finding that sufficient evidence was found. After the preliminary hearing, the prosecuting attorney is required to file a document called an Information with the District Court. This document is identical to the Complaint, but can only be signed by the prosecuting attorney.
The preliminary hearing serves the same purpose as a grand jury hearing. The only difference is that sixteen jurors make the decision about probable cause in a grand jury proceeding, while a single magistrate makes the decision about probable cause in a preliminary hearing.
Arraignment In District Court
Once an Indictment or Information has been filed, the defendant is required to appear before in District Court before a District Judge. The defendant's first appearance in District Court is called an arraignment. During the hearing, the defendant is informed of the charge or charges filed against them and the maximum possible penalties that the court could impose if the defendant pleads or is found guilty.
If the defendant pleads guilty at the arraignment, the judge sets the case for a sentencing hearing. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the court will set a date for a pretrial conference and a date for a jury trial.
The purpose of a pretrial conference is to bring the parties together to determine if they can reach a satisfactory resolution to the case. This is commonly known as plea bargaining. If the prosecution and the defendant reach an agreement, the defendant will enter a plea of guilty at the time of the pretrial conference or a time in the near future. If no resolution can be reached by the parties, the matter will proceed to trial at the time already scheduled or on a new date set by the court.
Trials are either "jury trials" or "court trials." A jury in a felony case consists of twelve jurors, although the parties can agree to have fewer jurors. In some cases, the parties may agree to have the case decided by a judge, rather than a jury. This is usually done because of the cost and time associated with conducting a jury trial - court trials being quicker and less expensive. Both the defendant and the prosecution have a constitutional right to a jury trial. Therefore, both parties must agree to waive a jury before the case can be heard as a court trial.
A sentencing hearing is the last regular hearing held before the court. Victims have a right to address the court at these hearings. The prosecution argues to the court what an appropriate sentence ought to be, as does the defendant. The prosecution and the defendant can call witnesses and introduce evidence to support their position about the appropriate sentence. The court will address the issue of jail time and fine. When applicable, the court will also discuss the suspension of the defendant's driver's license and the restitution the defendant must pay to the victim.
In certain cases the court can place the defendant on probation. Probation is supervised by the Idaho Department of Correction. Probation means that the court suspends the requirement that the defendant serve the sentence that was given, but is required to do certain things in exchange for suspending the sentence. These things can include counseling, community service, random urinalysis, and restrictions on associating with certain people or going to certain businesses or locations.
Retained Jurisdiction, also known as "a Rider"
The District Court has the option in felony cases to initially commit the defendant to the Department of Correction, but retain the judge's ability to bring the defendant out of the prison system and place the defendant on probation. This is commonly referred to as "retained jurisdiction" or "a rider."
The sentencing judge is only allowed to retain jurisdiction for the first 180 days after the defendant has been committed to the custody of the Department of Correction. When the judge retains their jurisdiction, the Department of Correction will place the defendant in a special evaluation program. The purpose of the program is to assess the defendant's ability and potential to comply with the requirements of supervised probation. The programs are designed to be completed near the end of the 180-day period. At the conclusion of evaluation period, the Department of Correction generates a report which is forwarded to the sentencing judge. The report makes a recommendation to the judge to either place the defendant on probation or relinquish the court's jurisdiction and leave the defendant in the prison system.
Male defendants are sent to the North Idaho Correctional Institute in Cottonwood, Idaho. The program at N.I.C.I. is a military style boot camp that is intended to instill a sense of discipline and self accomplishment in defendants, while providing specific rehabilitation programs to the defendants.
Female defendants are sent to the Pocatello Women's Correctional Center in Pocatello, Idaho. There is no specialized "boot camp" style program at the women's prison. The Department of Corrections is currently in the process of turning one of the facilities in Boise into a specialized facility to focus on the programs necessary for those female defendants who are serving a sentence under retained jurisdiction.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why Won't The Prosecutor Talk Directly With A Defendant Who Is Represented By An Attorney?
The Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit an attorney from discussing a case with a party who is represented by an attorney. It is an ethical violation which can result in sanctions, even revocation of the prosecutor's license to practice law, if the prosecutor discusses the case with a defendant who he knows to be represented by an attorney. The defendant's attorney can give consent for the prosecution to talk to the defendant without the defense attorney present. This occurs in very rare circumstances. The prosecuting attorney will usually decline to talk to the defendant in such a situation unless the defense attorney's consent is in writing.
What If A Defendant Cannot Get Their Attorney To Discuss The Case With Them?
Defendants will occasionally call the prosecutor's office to discuss the case because they are not satisfied with the amount or quality of the conversations they are having with their attorney. As indicated in the previous section, the prosecutor cannot discuss the case with a defendant who is represented by counsel.
It is suggested that if the issue is one of the lawyer not returning phone calls, that the defendant write a letter to the attorney about what it is the defendant needs to know. This provides proof of the contact with the defense attorney and may allow the attorney to ask a member of their staff to address the concern because the attorney's schedule prevents them from responding in a timely fashion.
If writing a letter to the attorney does not work, it is suggested that the defendant write a letter to the judge explaining the communication problem with the attorney. Defendant's should not discuss specific items in the case, strategy items, or make any incriminating remarks. Any statements the defendant makes to the judge must be disclosed to the prosecution and can by used against the defendant during any part of the case.
As a client, a defendant can also report the lawyer to the Idaho State Bar if they believe one of the rules of professional conduct has been violated. This will trigger an investigation into the incident by the Idaho State Bar's ethics attorney. It is suggested that a defendant be assured that the attorney does not have a reasonable and valid explanation for the lack of communication before making such a referral.
Will A Conviction Affect A Defendant's Driver's License?
A defendant should read the criminal statute they have been cited with, and associated statutes, to determine if the court is allowed or required to suspend their driver's license. Idaho's criminal statutes can be researched by clicking on the following link to
If a person is concerned about points being assessed against their driving record, they can can look up the points schedule by clicking on this link to the
Idaho Transportation Department web site.
How Does Someone Get A Restricted Driver's Permit?
The prosecutor's office is not involved in the issuance of restricted driver's permits. If someone's license has been suspended by the court, they need to contact the court to apply for a restricted driving permit. If the person has been suspended by the the Idaho Department of Transportation, the person needs to contact ITD to find out what can be done about driving privileges.
What If I Am A Victim Of The Offense?
If you are a victim of an offense you have certain rights. To learn more about victim-related issues, please review the victim information provided on this web site by clicking this link to our Victim Services web page.
How do the Sex Offender Registration Laws Work?
Idaho has adopted Sex Offender Registration Notification and Community Right-To-Know Act, located in Title 18, Chapter 83 of the Idaho Code. The Act requires people convicted of sexual offenses to register with the local sheriff's office. The registration must be kept current. Community members are allowed to access information about sex offenders in their community. Failure to register as required is a felony offense. The requirement to register is a lifetime requirement. However, a defendant is allowed under narrow circumstances to petition the court to remove the registration requirement after a period of ten years.
You can read the entire Act by clicking on the name of the Act in the first sentence of this section. You can read the list of criteria for which defendants are required to register by clicking this link to Idaho Code 18-8304. You can review the requirements a defendant must meet to remove the registration requirement by clicking on this link to
Idaho Code 18-8304. You can read the restrictions on the public's ability to access sex offender registration by clicking on this link to Idaho Code 18-8323.
Idaho Code 18-8326 makes it a criminal offense to use the sex offender registration information for the purpose of carrying out vigilante acts of for other misuse of the information obtained from the registry.
How Does A Felony Affect A Defendant's Civil Rights, Such As The Right To Possess Firearms?
Idaho Code 18-310 provides for the suspension of civil rights of a defendant who is sentenced to prison. There are also civil rights restrictions placed on those defendants who in the community while on probation or parole. The most frequently addressed issue is that of the possession of firearms after a person has been convicted of a felony. You can review the rules on the suspension of civil rights and the procedures for having those rights restored, if possible, by clicking on the link to Idaho Code 18-310 found at the beginning of this section.
INFORMATION ON OFFENDERS
The Idaho Department of Correction has instituted a crime victims notification service, known as the VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) program. VINE is a toll-free, 24-hour telephone hotline. Users can call anonymously for offender custody status updates and register for automatic notification. The Idaho Commission of Pardons & Parole is a partner in the VINE project so that VINE also offers parole and probation information including parole hearing, case expiration and parole eligibility dates. Victims may call the IDOC's VINE Line at 1-877-VINE-4-ID (1-877-846-3443.)
Information about the location and parole eligibility of offenders sentenced to the Idaho Department of Correction can be obtained by clicking this link to IDOC's
Offender Search Page.
The prosecution of felony cases falls exclusively upon the county prosecuting attorney. City prosecutors have no authority to prosecute felonies. The Idaho Attorney General's Office may prosecute felonies when requested to do so by the county prosecuting attorney.
FELONY CRIMINAL STATUTES
Felony criminal statutes are found throughout the Idaho Code. However, they are primarily found in Title 18 (general criminal laws), Title 37, Chapter 27 (drug laws), and Title 49 (traffic). You can search for Idaho criminal codes at the State of Idaho's Statutes and Constitution web site.
STATUTORY CRIMINAL PROCEDURES
Criminal procedures are located primarily in Title 19 of the Idaho Code. You can search for Idaho criminal procedural statutes and constitutional provisions at the State of Idaho's Statutes and Constitution web site.
Court rules governing felony proceedings are adopted by the Idaho Supreme Court and are located in Idaho Criminal Rules. The Seventh Judicial District has its own set of local rules. These are available by contacting the Trial Court Administrator's Office or the
Idaho Supreme Court.
The prosecutor's office works in conjunction with the following agencies in the discharge of their responsibilities:
Idaho Department of Corrections
Division of Prisons
Division of Community Corrections (Probation and Parole)