Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Office of the Bucks County District Attorney
Victim Witness Unit
Criminal Justice System
If you are a victim or witness of crime, you will be asked to make yourself available to testify in court about the crime which involves you. Your cooperation is a very important part of bringing criminals to justice. By becoming involved as a witness, you are not only performing an important civic duty, but you are also helping to protect yourself and other innocent victims of crime. It is our hope that the following information and suggestions will help to prepare you for your experience with our criminal justice system.
Victims and witnesses are sent different types of notices depending upon the circumstances of each case. The following are the types of notices that are typically sent. Please read your notice carefully and call the Victim/Witness Assistance Unit at (215) 348-6292, 6303 or 6305 if you have any questions or need help to understand your notice.
The “Stand-by” Notice
A standby system has been established by the District Attorney’s Office so victims and witnesses can stay at home, school or work until needed to testify in the criminal trial of someone who is accused of breaking the law in Bucks County (referred to as a defendant). If your notice tells you to “standby”, you must telephone the trial team in the District Attorney’s Office as soon as you receive your letter at 215-348-6308 or 215-348-6312 and leave a voice message with a phone number where you can be reached on the day of the trial. Be sure to also leave your name and the case number in your message. Your contact information will be given to the Assistant District Attorney (ADA) when the case is assigned.
Pretrial Conference Notice
Some defendants who are charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) are scheduled for a Pretrial Conference (PTC) on the first listing. At the PTC, the defendant will have two options. The first option will be to plead guilty to the charge(s) against them and be sentenced for the offense(s). The second option is to request a trial. If the defendant requests a trial, the case will be rescheduled to a trial date and the victim will receive a “must appear” notice. No one will need to testify if the defendant pleads guilty but victims may still be present and have an opportunity to give an Impact Statement if they want to. Victims who want to submit an Impact Statement and/or be present on the Pretrial Conference date should contact the Victim Assistance Unit in the District Attorney’s Office by calling (215) 348-6292, (215) 348-6305 or (215) 348-6303
ARD Court Notice
Some defendants apply for a program called “Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition” (ARD). This program is for first time, non-violent offenders. The District Attorney’s Office decides if a defendant will be accepted into the program after reviewing the application and speaking with the victim(s) in the case. If approved, the case will be scheduled for ARD Court. If the defendant complies with all of the conditions of the ARD agreement, the criminal record may be expunged (erased). If you are a victim and would like more information about the program, please call (215) 348-6344 and ask to speak with a member of the ARD Unit. Victims may also ask to speak with an Assistant District Attorney to provide input about the decision to approve a defendant for the program.
If a case is called for trial:
If you are called to testify on the day of the trial, you should immediately proceed to the courthouse in Doylestown. Parking is available free of charge in the county parking garage which is located directly behind the Justice Center at the corner of Broad Street and Union Street.. There is also limited, metered on-street parking available.
You will need to go through a metal detector at the security checkpoint when you enter the Justice Center. All purses, briefcases, packages, etc. will be scanned. You may not bring any weapons, pocket knives, box cutters or mace into the courthouse.
Once you have passed through security, proceed to the 4th floor and check in at the District Attorney’s booth (on the right when you get off the elevator). You will be asked to sign a witness slip. This slip must be completed in order for you to receive a nominal witness fee of $5.00 per day and $.07 per mile for your travel. After you have signed in at the D.A.’s booth, you will be directed to a specific courtroom where the an Assistant District Attorney (prosecutor) assigned to handle the case will speak with you about your testimony.
The day of trial
A number of events may occur on the scheduled trial date of a case. Most often it is not known until the morning of the trial date as to which of the following events will occur:
- The defendant may not appear. If this happens, the Judge will issue a bench warrant for his/her arrest. The case will then be rescheduled for trial on a later date after the defendant has been apprehended.
- The trial date may be continued or postponed if either the defendant or the prosecution is not ready for trial. If the case is continued, a new trial date is usually set immediately by the court and you will receive a new trial notification.
- The defendant may plead guilty. The defendant might enter a plea agreement that has been negotiated (worked out in advance) between the defendant, the defense attorney and the prosecutor. This agreement might include a plea to a lesser charge, a dismissal of one or more charges or a recommendation for a reduced sentence. If the Judge accepts the negotiated plea, the sentence remains as agreed upon. The defendant might also enter an open guilty plea, which means that the defendant will plead guilty to some or all of the charges but the sentence will be decidedly solely by the Judge.
If the defendant decides to plead guilty on his trial date, on-call victims and witnesses will not receive a call to come to the courthouse. In that guilty plea and sentencing often take place on the trial date, all victims who wish to have input at sentencing should plan to be present at the courthouse no later than 9:30 a.m. on the designated trial date.
- If the defendant does not plead guilty, the case will proceed for trial. There will either be a jury trial or a bench (waiver) trial. A Waiver trial means that there is no jury and a Judge will decide the verdict. In a jury trial, jury selection is generally done immediately before the trial begins. If a case is called for trial, you will be telephoned to come to the courthouse. Trials in criminal cases are held in one of several courtrooms located in the Bucks County Courthouse. Criminal trials are public hearings and each courtroom provides for a limited number of spectators.
Testifying at trial
The purpose of a trial is to determine the truth. By keeping this purpose in mind, you will help to insure that justice is done in all cases.
A trial begins with an opening statement by the District Attorney representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The statement outlines the case that the Commonwealth’s evidence will prove. The defense attorney follows or has the option of delaying an opening statement until the beginning of the defense’s case.
The Commonwealth presents their case first. Your testimony will be needed at this time. You will encounter two (2) forms of questioning, direct examination and cross-examination. The District Attorney who calls you to testify will question you about the particular facts which you have observed about the crime at issue. This is called direct examination. After the District Attorney’s questions are completed, the defendant’s attorney will have the right to ask you questions about the same facts. This is called cross-examination.
After the Commonwealth has presented all of their witnesses, the defense begins. The defendant does not have to take the stand in his/her own defense. When both sides are finished questioning witnesses, they proceed to closing arguments. It is important to remember that the defendant does not have to prove that he/she is not guilty. The burden of proof lies with the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant is guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
After closing arguments, the Judge will give jury instructions. This is called “charging the jury”. After the jury has been charged, they will talk together until they reach a unanimous verdict. The verdict is read in open court. If the verdict is not guilty, the case will be dismissed. If the verdict is guilty, the defendant may be sentenced immediately or the Judge may order a pre-sentence investigation and the sentencing will take place at a later date. A sentencing hearing will usually be scheduled within 90 days.
In most cases which result in a guilty verdict, the Judge has the option of imposing several types of sentences. Those options include:
- A sentence of imprisonment. Prison sentences may be served in the Bucks County Correctional Facility or one of several state prisons throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
- A term of supervised probation. Under a probation sentence, the defendant will not serve time in prison but will have his/her activities supervised by the Adult Probation and Parole Department.
- Non-reporting probation.
- A fine.
Sentences may always contain special provisions such as restitution for losses suffered by a victim or a requirement that the defendant have no contact with a victim or witness. The sentence may also include an order the defendant must undergo drug/alcohol treatment, psychological counseling and/or anger management counseling. In some cases, the Judge may also order the defendant to write a letter of apology to the victim.
Information for witnesses
The following information is offered to assist you in becoming an effective witness:
- Tell the truth
This is the most important thing to remember. Any lie can discredit your entire testimony. In addition, you are under oath and failure to tell the truth can result in perjury charges being brought against you.
- Be prepared
Before coming to court, review the facts of the case in your own mind. Try to picture the scene, the people involved, the objects there, the distances involved and the events that took place. Don’t try to memorize what you are going to say.
- Dress neatly
A neat appearance and proper dress reflect your respect for the court. No shorts, tank tops or similar clothing is allowed in the courtroom
- Relax, be yourself and remain calm and courteous
Even if the attorney questioning you seems rude or makes you angry, remember to stay calm and don’t lose your temper.
- Be serious and respectful in the courtroom
Always address the Judge as “Your Honor”. Never chew gum, smoke or read newspapers in the courtroom. Avoid laughing or talking in the courtroom. No beepers or cell phones are allowed (unless on vibrate). Noise disrupts testimony.
- Take your time and speak loudly and clearly
Listen carefully and give the question as much thought as you need to understand it and to form your answer. You must always speak your responses so your answers can be recorded. If you are interrupted, you may ask the Judge for permission to finish. If you do not know the answer to a question or you do not remember something, do not be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember”. Never make up an answer if you are not sure of the facts.
- Freely admit your conversations with others about the case
If the defense attorney asks you if you have talked to anyone about the case, tell the truth. It is perfectly o.k. for you to have discussed a case with police, the Assistant District Attorney or others before you were called to testify.
- Avoid jurors during recesses
You must never approach a juror even on a matter that is not related to the trial. Avoid laughing or talking about the case in the court house, at lunch or anywhere that your conversation might be overheard.
- After testifying, do not discuss your testimony with others
After you have testified, you will usually be permitted to remain in the courtroom for the remainder of the trial. This shows the jury that you are interested in the outcome of the case. After you have testified, do not discuss your testimony with other witnesses or victims who have not yet testified. If you do, it could violate a court order and damage the case. If you decide to remain in the courtroom after testifying, never make remarks or comments to the defendant, anyone there on the defendant’s behalf or during someone else’s testimony.
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