Data Story

Anatomy of the criminal justice system

Each piece of the criminal justice system relies upon the effective functioning of the others. The data below shows the size and scope of key junctures in the criminal justice system as well as information about interdependencies among law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts.

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Police make arrests when they have evidence that there is “probable cause” that a person has committed an offense.

After arrest, prosecutors assess whether the evidence is strong enough to file charges.

If there is “probable cause,” the prosecutor will file charges and the defendant will appear before a criminal court judge who will determine bail. This is arraignment.

Once a defendant is arraigned, the prosecutor has five days to present charges to a Grand Jury, which can indict the case. After indictment, the defendant is arraigned in Supreme Court. If the case is not indicted, it can proceed as a misdemeanor in Criminal Court.

Once a case is in Supreme Court, the time it takes until plea, trial, sentence or acquittal depends on the complexity of the case, the court schedule, and the actions of the prosecutor and defense attorney, among others.

The strength of the evidence gathered by police, the effectiveness of the prosecution, and the pace of court processing all affect whether a case ends in plea, trial, sentence or acquittal.

The judge can sentence a defendant to time served, probation, jail, prison, or to some alternative to incarceration or other remedy.

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