The following definitions are of criminal justice terms as they relate to the District Attorney's Office.

District Attorney
The District Attorney is the chief prosecutor elected to a 4-year term of office by the residents of Washington County, who is responsible for investigating and prosecuting offenses committed within the county.

Assistant District Attorney
Assistant district attorneys are appointed by the District Attorney as a public officer to investigate and prosecute offenses. In Washington County, there is 1 First Assistant District Attorney and 3 Assistant District Attorneys.

Criminal Court
Criminal courts consist of local and superior courts where criminal trials are heard.

Superior Court
In Washington County, the superior court is the County Court.

Local Courts
Town and village courts located within the county are local courts. Local courts have preliminary jurisdiction for all offenses and trial jurisdiction for misdemeanor and petty offenses.

Petty Offense
A petty offense is a non-criminal offenses such as a violation or a traffic infraction.

A crime is a misdemeanor or felony as defined by New York State Law.

A misdemeanor is an offense for which a sentence of up to 1 year may be imposed.

A felony is an offense for which a sentence of imprisonment exceeding 1 year may be imposed.

Bail is a specific monetary amount set by the court to ensure the defendants return to the court for future proceedings.

The first court appearance after a defendant has been arrested is called an arraignment. At the arraignment the defendant is advised of the criminal charges filed. In misdemeanor cases, a plea may be entered at arraignment. In felony cases, a plea may not be entered until after the preliminary hearing or grand jury takes place.

At the arraignment the defendant may be released on his or her own recognizance (ROR), released on bail or held without bail.

Preliminary Hearing
At this hearing, the state must present evidence to show that a felony has been committed, and that the state has sufficient evidence to prosecute the defendant for the offense. A defendant may waive this hearing and proceed to the next step in the prosecution.

Grand Jury
A grand jury is a a body consisting of not less than 16 but no more than 23 persons, impaneled by a superior court to hear and examine evidence concerning criminal offenses, misconduct, nonfeasance and neglect in public office. Grand jury proceedings are secret and while the District Attorney is the legal adviser to the grand jury, the decision whether or not to indict someone for a crime based upon the evidence presented remains exclusively with the grand jurors.

An indictment is a written accusation by a grand jury that charges a defendant with 1 or more offenses, at least 1 of which is a crime. In order to indict a defendant, at least 12 grand jurors must find that the evidence before it provides reasonable cause to believe a defendant committed such offense. The burden of proof is less than the people’s burden of proof at a trial which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt as found by a unanimous verdict of a jury of 12 or a judge in a non-jury setting.

Plea Bargain
A plea bargain is an agreement among the court, the district attorney and the defendant, whereby the defendant pleads guilty to an offense in exchange for a specific promised sentence. A defendant cannot plead guilty to less than all the charges in an accusatory instrument without the consent of the district attorney. If the defendant pleads guilty to all the charges the district attorneys consent to the sentence imposed is not required by law.

Sentencing is the final step in the prosecution. After conviction, either by trial or by plea agreement, the defendant is sentenced as determined by the judge within the boundaries of New York State Law, and taking into consideration the defendant’s criminal record and severity of the crime. Both the victim and the District Attorney may make recommendations but the judge is the final authority. The sentence imposed may be 1 or more of the following - paying a fine or fee, a term of probation, paying restitution, undergo court ordered drug or alcohol treatment, domestic violence related treatment or counseling, a county jail term of less than 1 year, a state prison term of more than 1 year.

Order of Protection
An order of protection is a written court order issued on behalf of a victim or witness proscribing certain conduct by the defendant. A temporary order of protection may be issued while charges are pending. A final order of protection may be issued upon the conviction of the defendant. A defendant who violates 1 or more conditions of such order may be prosecuted for the crime of criminal contempt.