How a Crime is Prosecuted

Navigating the Justice System
Office of Crime Victim Services

victim-impactLaws very specifically govern how a crime is prosecuted in Wisconsin. When a crime is reported to a law enforcement agency, the agency investigates the crime and may refer the criminal matter to the district attorney’s office. The prosecutor is the District Attorney or an Assistant District Attorney, who represents the state of Wisconsin. The prosecutor decides what criminal charges are appropriate against whom and files criminal charges against the offender who must answer to those charges in court. The prosecutor must decide whether there is sufficient evidence against the suspect to prove the alleged crime. The prosecutor must make a reasonable attempt to inform you of a decision not to file charges. As the victim of a crime you are entitled be informed of the process. You may request to be notified of the time, place and date of court proceedings and to attend those proceedings. The only time that you are required to appear in court is when you have received a subpoena to appear.

The person charged with a crime is called a defendant. A criminal prosecution is started by the arrest of a defendant or by summoning him/her into court. The prosecutor files a criminal complaint which sets forth the charge against the defendant and the facts that support the charges. The first court appearance in a criminal case is the initial appearance. At the initial appearance, the judge or court commissioner will set bail for the defendant. Bail is the condition or conditions under which the defendant will be released from custody. The main purpose of bail is to ensure the defendants appearance at future court appearances. These conditions can include the posting of cash bail or a written promise to appear, often referred to as a signature bond. In some cases, the conditions of bail will include a condition that the defendant has no contact with the victim of the crime.

Criminal procedures vary in a case depending on whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony. Criminal cases are either misdemeanor or felony cases depending upon the maximum penalties that could be imposed. A misdemeanor is an offense punishable by imprisonment up to a year in the county jail. Felonies are offenses punishable by a year or more in the state prison system.

More Info On Navigating the Justice System

Domestic Violence Homicide Statistics

Only 4% of abused victims had used a domestic violence hotline or shelter within the year prior to being killed by an intimate partner. – Sharps, P. W., et al. (2001). Health care providers’ missed opportunities for preventing femicide. Preventive Medicine 33, 373-80.

In the year prior to the homicide, more than 44% of abusers were arrested, and almost one-third of victims contacted the police.

Sharps, P. W., et al. (2001). Health care providers’ missed opportunities for preventing femicide. Preventive Medicine 33, 373-80.

Danger Factors for Intimate Partner Homicide:

  • Jealousy
  • Substance Abuse (drugs and/or alcohol)
  • Possession of a Firearm
  • Depression/Suicidal Ideation of Abuser
  • Materially Motivated (Wealth/Lifestyle Retention – Fear of Loss of Image/Assets/Status due to Divorce)
  • Prior History of Violence
  • Less Fear of Legal Consequences
  • Desperation
  • Family History of Domestic Violence Exposure in Childhood

Dr. David Adams

Dr. David Adams is the author of the book Why Do They Kill?: Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners. He is the co-founder as well as Co-Director of Emerge, the first counseling program in the nation for men who abuse women; it was established in 1977.

Risk Assessment

  • Identification of High Risk of Lethality Cases
  • Prevention
  • Safety Planning
  • Fatality Review – data not present in criminal justice records, medical records, typically only able to gain insight from family members. Researcher should be on team to analyze data, publish findings for other teams and communities.
  • Most (70%) IPV violence is never reported or documented, which is why collecting information from family members is critical. Very important to family members. Most want to participate so that their loved one’s death is not in vain. Prevention.

Read More Domestic Violence Statistics

Possible Concerns to Consider: A Road Map


Every family’s situation is different.  However, some common concerns may arise, many of which you may not have anticipated.  We can help connect you with resources to address the following:

If Children are involved:

  • Counseling/trauma assessment
  • Medical care if needed
  • Determining family placement if possible
  • Establishing power of attorney for caregiver
  • Social Services/Placement
  • Safety
  • School notification

Adults often fail to communicate with children by either ignoring them when they are preoccupied with their own issues or hoping to protect them from unnecessary trauma. The children, in turn, fear adding to their caretakers’s pain and simply withdraw. Children who witness the killing of someone they love experience profound emotional trauma, including post traumatic stress disorder, and may not readily receive adequate intervention.
Furthermore, children who report having to perform tasks associated with the fatal injury, such as telephoning for police or emergency medical services, or responding to the immediate needs of the injured person or the perpetrator, are often traumatized. When the issue of blame or accountability for the death is not resolved through police investigation, children may re-examine their behavior, believing that if they had done something differently, they could have prevented the death. Without support and an opportunity to explore the feasibility of such alternatives, children often continue to blame themselves unnecessarily.

Connection with the coroner/medical examiner re: location of loved one’s body,

Establishing counseling/grief resources

Crime scene security/clean up after the investigation concludes

  • May be paid through home owner’s insurance
  • May submit for crime victims’ compensation

Crime victim compensation – crime scene clean up, loss of support, medical
expenses, counseling expenses, funeral expenses, lost wages, homemaker services,
property held as evidence
Criminal investigation process

Co-victims of homicide have a vested interest in participating in the criminal or juvenile justice system and understanding the complex issues of a cumbersome legal system.

  • How is the case going to be prosecuted?
  • What are the charges?

Employment – notify your supervisor, contact the Human Resource department
regarding leave needed for yourself

  • If your loved one was working, you’ll need to call his or her employer immediately.
    Ask about the deceased’s benefits and any pay due, including vacation or sick time,
    disability income, etc. Ask if you or other dependents are still eligible for benefit
    coverage through the company. Ask whether there is a life insurance policy through the
    employer, who the beneficiary is and how to file a claim.

Evidence – how to reclaim loved one’s property, timeframes
Financial/Legal matters – An attorney and accountant may be able to help with the

  • Child placement/termination of parental rights
  • Planning for costs associated with funeral, burial, medical treatment, psychiatric care for family members
  • Establishing memorial/scholarship fund through bank
  • Estate planning
  • Life insurance
  • Wills
  • Accessing bank accounts- If you have a joint account with the deceased
    you may be able to conduct business as usual, depending upon how the account was
    opened. Otherwise, normally only the will’s executor or administrator can access the
    account after providing the required paperwork to the bank. Call or visit the bank to
    find out what is required.

Funeral arrangements – the funeral director can help you with the following:

  • transport the body
  • obtain a death certificate
  • select a casket, urn and/or grave marker
  • arrange the funeral, memorial and/or burial service
  • prepare the obituary
  • help you notify the deceased’s employer, attorney, insurance company and banks
  • offer grief support or direct you to other resources

Grieving process – stages and what to expect

Housing – temporary if needed

Life Insurance – Look through the deceased’s paperwork for the life policy. Call the
agent or the company and ask how to file a claim. Usually the beneficiary (or the
beneficiary’s guardian, if a minor) must complete the claim forms and related
paperwork. You’ll need to submit the death certificate and a claimant’s statement to
establish proof of claim. Remember to ask about payment options. You may have a
choice between receiving a lump sum or the having the insurance company place the
money in an interest-bearing account from which you can write checks.

Marriage – It is common for marital partners to have difficulty relating, and they may even separate after a family member’s homicide.  Each partner may grieve differently.  New caretakers to children left behind may experience added stress in marriage.

How to deal with the media, your rights (See “resources available” under “Get Help” tab)

Notification of family, friends, clergy

Papers: Find relevant documents, such as a will or trust. These may be in the safety
deposit box. Remember to gather other important papers, such as deeds, business
agreements, tax returns, bank accounts, earnings statements, birth and marriage
certificates, military discharge papers, Social Security Number, vehicle registration,
loan payment books, bills, and any other important papers pertaining to your loved
one’s affairs. You’ll need these to file a final tax return and settle the estate; you may
want to consult an accountant.

Religious faith: Questions for, anger at, and challenges to God surface regarding the reason for the death. How could a loving God allow it to happen? Where is the loved one? Some conclude, at least for a while, that “if there were a God, then God would not have let this happen. Since it happened, there must not be a God.” Other victims find their faith to be a source of strength, comfort, and resilience. Each victim must decide for himself or herself which beliefs will assist their recovery. Past religious beliefs may be insufficient to address the challenges faced in the aftermath of the homicide. Faithful co-victims seeking to understand sometimes look for answers from unorthodox sources. Over-simplistic comments and “answers” from clergy and church members sometimes are confusing or hurtful for co-victims who take their spiritual pilgrimage seriously and are seeking insight or solace from their faith.

Social Security – If your loved one was covered, the spouse or dependents may be
eligible for certain payments or benefits. Also call any unions, professional or service
organizations your loved one belonged to. He or she may have had life insurance or
other benefits through these organizations.

Wills: If you were named the executor of your loved one’s will, you’ve got more work
to do. First, you’ll need to file a probate case with the court. Although an attorney isn’t
required in most states, you’ll probably want to hire one who is experienced in probate.
You may choose to hire the lawyer who prepared the will, but that isn’t necessary.
Depending on the specifics of the estate, probate can be complicated and lengthy. As
executor, you’ll be responsible for carrying out your loved one’s wishes according to the
will, paying creditors and balancing the estate. There’s no standard amount of time a
probate lasts, but some states are initiating laws to expedite the process. If someone
dies without a will – dying intestate – the court will appoint an administrator. If you are
appointed administrator, your responsibilities will be similar to those of an executor:
distributing assets, paying creditors and balancing the estate.