Below is an attempt to answer some Frequently Asked Questions. If you have any questions, please contact our office.
How are charges filed?
Many times you will hear or read that the police have charged someone with a crime. Police ARREST but prosecutors FILE CHARGES. There are many factors to consider when the decision "To File" is made:
- What happened and how serious is it?
- Has someone been purposefully injured?
- What does the officer or detective on the case feel is the best solution?
- What does the victim want?
- Will the victim cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation?
- Is it something our community feels strongly about?
And many other factors that change depending on the circumstances. The first factor to always consider is, how strong is the case and what will a potential jury do with it? As this office doesn't own a magic wand, we have to wade through the evidence and determine if the case is filed, can we prove to a jury of 12 people (all 12 must agree on a guilty verdict) all of the elements of the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. It's not very cut and dry. If the case can't be proven, then all other factors are irrelevant and it would be unethical to proceed.
Can a citizen or victim of a crime have charges dropped?
The ultimate decision on whether a charge will go to trial is the prosecutors. Although we want to know how a victim feels about a charge, the decision is still the prosecutors.
How is punishment determined?
Just like the decision to file charges, there are numerous factors to consider and many are the same. An additional few are:
- What does the victim want/need in the resolution?
- What does the GRID say the sentence should be? (We have a Grid System that takes into account the seriousness of the crime and the defendant's criminal history and arrives at a punishment.)
Again, the strength of the case is often the overriding consideration. There may be a particularly heinous crime charged but the evidence or witnesses may not be very strong.
Does getting probation mean that the criminal is getting a slap on the wrist?
Although most criminals would vote to be put on Probation rather than go "down south", it is hardly a slap on the wrist. If at any time the probationer fails to successfully complete something he is ordered to do, he can have his Probation revoked. That means he goes in front of a judge (no jury) and it only has to be proven by a Preponderance of the Evidence (a civil law burden that is much lower than Beyond a Reasonable Doubt). The person can then be sent to Arkansas Department of Corrections for the maximum amount the crime carried. Additionally, Probation may rectify a situation better than a "stay down south" when due to prison overcrowding, he might only do a small fraction of his sentence. Probation also allows the victim to be paid back damages and counseling is often more readily available. The person can also be ordered to serve jail time as well. If the defendant doesn't correct his behavior, he goes on a little trip "down south" anyway.
It seems prisoners only do a fraction of whatever time a jury gives them. Why is that?
Generally it's prison overcrowding. There are more prisoners waiting in county jails in Arkansas waiting to go to Arkansas Department of Corrections than there were prisoners ACTUALLY IN Arkansas Department of Corrections 30 years ago. Once a defendant is found guilty, he basically becomes property of the Arkansas Department of Corrections and it is their call on when a prisoner will be released. Most are going to do 1/6th or 1/4th of the sentence they receive. However, more serious crimes such as Murder 1st Degree, Rape, Kidnapping and a few other crimes require the prisoner to serve 70% of their time.