Covering Crime and Justice

For my journalism class, I have already created some fake press releases and other documents and created a scenario that simulates how a student reporter might cover an incident involving a member of the campus. If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that there’s been a real-world incident. I’ve been freshening up what I know about covering the courts.

After a charge has been filed, a defendant has a right to a bond hearing. If the case has been generated by an arrest, a defendant typically must be allowed to come before a judge or magistrate within a proscribed period of time—often 48 hours. At that hearing, a prosecutor presents a summary of the evidence and requests a setting of bond. A defense attorney is allowed to make a presentation regarding the setting of bond, but there is no direct challenging of the evidence. Whatever must be posted to obtain release pending disposition of the charges is usually referred to as the bail. Bonds and bail can take many forms. Some bonds require that 100 percent of the face amount be posted, others require only 10 percent and still others may require only that a defendant give a signature to a promise to appear in court. These latter bonds are known as “signature bonds” or “individual” or “own” recognizance bonds—and are referred in shorthand as “OR” or “IR” bonds.

After a judge sets the bond, a defendant usually has the right to what is often called a preliminary hearing, which involves presentation of evidence before a judge, who rules on whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed the crime. This judge is usually not the judge who will preside over a trial in the case, should one occur.

Probable cause is a lesser burden of proof than the “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” that is required at trial. Probable cause is defined as a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime. The test the courts use to determine whether probable cause existed for purposes of arrest is whether the facts and circumstances within an officer’s knowledge are sufficient to warrant a prudent person to believe a suspect has committed a crime.

In many jurisdictions, a defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing within a statutory period of time such as 30 days. Frequently, prosecutors will avoid putting on their evidence at a preliminary hearing by presenting it in secret to a grand jury shortly after a bond hearing.

via Covering Crime and Justice.