Accused: A person or entity accused of committing a crime.

Acquitted: The term used when the proof at trial fails to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Affidavit: A sworn written statement made under oath before an authorized magistrate or officer.

Appeal: The process by which a defendant requests that his or her conviction is reviewed by a higher court.

Arraignment: The court appearance at which the defendant is brought before a Judge to be informed of the charges and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Subsequent court dates are set at the arraignment.

Arrest: The process of taking a person accused of a crime into custody by a law enforcement officer.

Bond/Bail: The amount of money that a Judge determines is sufficient to release an accused and assure his/her attendance at later hearings. The accused must post the bail or a bond, and is liable for losing the total amount if he or she fails to appear for court.

Defendant: A person charged with committing a crime.

Defense Attorney: An attorney employed by the defendant or the Public Defender's Office whose job is to represent the defendant's interest in criminal proceedings.

Discovery: The process by which the prosecutor and defense attorney exchange certain information prior to trial.

Disposition: The final result of a criminal case. This may be by a finding of guilt or non-guilt, or dismissal, or a plea of guilty.

Felony: A criminal charge which is punishable by imprisonment of more than one year in the State Department of Corrections.

Felony Hearing: A court hearing in which the prosecution must establish reasonable cause to believe the defendant committed a felony.

Grand Jury: A group of citizens, no less than 16 and no more than 23 in number, that hears evidence presented by the prosecutor and, if it determines probable cause exists to believe the accused committed an offense, charges the accused by indictment.

Guilty: Plea that a defendant enters in court admitting that he or she committed the crime; a verdict returned by a jury or Judge finding that the prosecution has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime(s).

Indictment: A written accusation against one or more persons of a crime or crimes.

Investigation: The process of collecting evidence by law enforcement officers or the prosecutor to determine if a crime has been committed.

Judge: The individual who presides over court proceedings.

Jury: The group of citizens sworn to hear testimony and evidence at a trial and decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty of committing the crime(s).

Misdemeanor: A criminal charge that is punishable by a fine or incarceration for a maximum of one year.

Mistrial: When a trial ends without a verdict because a rule of criminal procedure has been violated or if the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision.

Motions: Written or oral requests by the prosecutor or defense attorney for the Judge to take specific actions.

Not Guilty Plea: A statement that a defendant enters at arraignment denying committing the crime(s).

Plea Agreement (plea bargain): An agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to avoid a trial.

Personal Recognizance: A Judge may allow a person accused of a crime to be released from custody without posting bond, believing that the defendant will return for future court dates.

Probable Cause: The amount of proof needed to determine that a crime occurred and the defendant committed the crime in order to proceed with prosecution in felony offenses.

Restitution: The amount of money that the Judge orders the defendant to pay the victim as a condition of the defendant’s sentence for the victim’s out-of-pocket losses directly related to the crime.

Sentence: The punishment that the presiding Judge imposes on a defendant found guilty or has plead guilty.

Subpoena: A written order requiring a person to appear in court at a specific date to give testimony.

Summons: A legal order requiring an individual to appear in court.

Trial: A court proceeding where testimony is presented to a Judge or a jury to determine if the defendant is guilty of committing the crime(s).

Verdict: The final determination of a Judge or jury.

Warrant: A legal order to a law enforcement agency to arrest the person named in the order.

Witness: A person who has seen or knows something about the crime.

All felony trials are conducted in the superior courts. In Westchester, this means they are conducted in the Supreme Court or the County Court in White Plains.  

Felony trials are either jury or bench trials. In a felony jury trial, 12 jurors are selected; alternate jurors may be selected as well. In a jury trial, the judge determines all questions of law and the jury decides all questions of fact. In a bench trial, there is no jury. Rather, the judge determines all questions of law and fact and renders the verdict. It is the defendant’s right to have a trial by jury, but, except where an indictment charges murder in the first degree, a defendant may elect to have a bench trial. 

A defendant charged with a misdemeanor is also entitled to a jury trial and again, may elect to have a bench, or “single judge” trial, at which there is no jury. A misdemeanor trial is conducted in the local criminal court that has jurisdiction over the matter (in general, where the alleged crime occurred).  In a misdemeanor jury trial, 6 jurors are selected; alternate jurors may be selected as well. 

The order of a jury trial, as adapted from the New York Criminal Procedure Law 260.30, is as follows:

1.  The jury is selected and sworn. 

2.  The court delivers preliminary instructions to the jury concerning its basic functions, duties and conduct.

3.  The People must deliver an opening statement to the jury.  Generally, in the opening statement, the prosecutor informs the jury of the nature of the case and summarizes the evidence that the People intend to offer. 

4.  The defendant may present an opening statement, but is not obligated to do so.

5.  The People must offer evidence in support of their case.  The People’s burden is to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

6.  The defendant may offer evidence in his defense.  A defendant has a constitutional right not to testify in his own defense.

7.  After the evidence is presented, the People and the defendant may deliver a summation, also called a closing argument.    

8.  The Court then must deliver a “charge” to the jury.  The charge instructs the jury on the fundamental and material legal principles they must follow in reaching their verdict.    

9.  Finally, the jury retires from the courtroom to deliberate and if possible, render a decision, or verdict.  The verdict must be unanimous. 


You have received a subpoena to appear in court. What does it mean?

If you are the victim of a crime and someone was arrested for committing that crime, chances are you may have to appear before a grand jury and/or a judge to testify as a witness.  If you do have to make such an appearance, you will receive a subpoena. 

Do not panic.  You have not done anything wrong.

It’s just that your testimony is a necessary part of the criminal trial.

Upon receiving that subpoena, you should immediately call the Assistant District Attorney (ADA) handling the case and set up a mutually convenient time to discuss the nature of your testimony.  The ADA will address any concerns you may have and prepare you for your testimony.   

I’ve met with the ADA to prepare. Now what?

  • On the day of your appearance for grand jury and/or trial, dress neatly, have a good breakfast and go to the courthouse with your subpoena, giving yourself enough time in the event that there is traffic or delays with public transportation.
  • Proceed to the place instructed by the trial ADA.
  • You will likely meet with the ADA again briefly to discuss any last minute issues or concerns.
  • You may see other witnesses there who are also testifying in the case. Do not discuss the case or your testimony with other witnesses. Avoid talking about the case in the presence of the jury or anywhere in the courthouse where you may be observed or overheard. If anyone asks to speak to you about the case, please inform the ADA immediately so that you can discuss the consequences of having such conversations.

It’s time for me to give my testimony. What do I do?

  • Rule #1: Tell the truth.
  • Relax.
  • Giving testimony at trial can be stressful and frustrating, especially during cross examination. Stay calm. Just remember – You know what happened on the day in question. You were there.  Answer each question honestly and in a courteous manner.  If the defense attorney says something that is not correct, politely indicate that what he or she is saying is incorrect. Never argue with the defense attorney or the judge.
  • Listen very carefully to each question before answering.
  • Speak in a loud, clear voice and keep your head up while speaking.
  • If you do not understand a question in the way it was asked, politely ask the attorney who is questioning you to repeat the question.
  • If you are nervous and say something that is not correct, take a deep breath and correct your answer.
  • Stay focused and answer the question that is asked while avoiding the temptation to give extraneous information.
  • If you do not know or remember the answer to a question, do not make up an answer. Simply state that you either do not know or do not recall.
  • Always be respectful. At the grand jury stage of the criminal proceedings, you will only be questioned by the ADA.  There is no judge and no defense attorney. But at the trial, there will be a judge and a lawyer for the defendant will be on hand to question you after the ADA has finished asking his or her questions.  This is called cross-examination.

How many times will I have to testify?

In Westchester County, you will most likely be required to appear once for trial on a misdemeanor case.  If the underlying charge is a felony, you will likely appear once before a grand jury and then possibly again for a least one day at the trial.

How long will my testimony take?

Every proceeding is different. Therefore you should speak with the ADA regarding timing issues.

If a defense attorney or investigator for the defense asks to speak to me be before trial, what do I do?

You are under no obligation to speak to the defense attorney or an investigator hired by the defense team. Please make sure to inform the ADA about any attempt by anyone to speak to you about the case.

What should I tell my employer?

Be honest and tell your employer you need the day off as you received a subpoena to testify for the prosecution in a criminal case. The District Attorney’s Office can provide you with a letter affirming that you did appear in court as directed, if necessary. 

What do I do if I receive a threat regarding my testimony?

Immediately call 911 and report the threat.  Then call the ADA who is handling the case.

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