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
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 Bannock 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
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
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
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.