The chief law enforcement officer for the Judicial District of Danbury described the state’s criminal justice system to participants at a recent Citizen Police Academy session, explaining the workings of the state’s criminal courts, which annually handle thousands of cases forwarded to them by police.
Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III gave a talk, “Criminal Justice After An Arrest: The Prosecutor’s Perspective” to about 20 academy participants.
The Newtown Police Department sponsors Citizen Police Academy, a free educational program to inform residents about law enforcement issues and, more broadly, about the criminal justice system. This year’s academy marks the 18th time that police have offered the program. Patrol Sergeant David Kullgren is the program coordinator.
Mr Sedensky recently headed the state’s legal review of the 12/14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Late last year, he issued a report analyzing the state police’s exhaustive probe into the incident.
Mr Sedensky explained to academy members that depending on the circumstances of a given criminal case, police may either make an arrest “on view,” which is based on the immediate evidence available in a situation, or may make an arrest through the arrest warrant process.
If a warrant is sought, police assemble investigational evidence and testimony as components of an arrest warrant application. If the police case is sound and exhibits “probable cause,” or reasonable grounds for presuming the guilt of the accused person, a prosecutor would endorse the police’s warrant application.
With a prosecutor’s endorsement, the warrant application is then sent to a judge for review. If a judge considers the criminal case to be sound, the judge would sign the warrant.
Police then would serve the warrant against the accused person, arresting the person.
Following the arrest, the person’s bail is set. If the individual cannot post bail, the person is held in custody for a court arraignment.
However, if the person posts bail, he or she is released for an upcoming court date. In some cases, only a written promise to appear in court is required for release from custody.
When arraigned in court on the charges, the defendant is formally notified by a judge of pending the criminal counts. The accused person may then enter a plea to the charges. The amount of bail, if applicable, would be reevaluated by the court.
If a defendant can show that he or she cannot afford a lawyer, a public defender would be appointed by the court. About half of the defendants in court receive public defenders’ services.
The defendant may seek court approval for participation in a “diversionary program” which would divert the case from normal court channels, resulting in there being no conviction on the criminal charges, if the defendant successfully meet the conditions of the diversionary program.
Such diversionary programs include alcohol education courses, community service, drug education, family violence education, and school violence education.
Also, a program known as “accelerated rehabilitation” provides offenders with a form of pretrial probation that allows the charges to be eventually dropped, provided that the offender successfully meets the conditions of the program.
The goal of the diversionary programs is to reduce the likelihood of defendants returning to the criminal justice system in the future, Mr Sedensky explained.
If a diversionary program is not employed, a criminal case in which a defendant has entered a “not guilty” plea will proceed to the pretrial phase. That phase may include “discovery” in which the prosecution discloses to the defense any legal material which is exculpatory. Pretrial conferences which include the judge, the defense attorney, and the prosecutor may be held. During such closed sessions plea bargaining discussions may occur.
Also, pretrial legal motions that concern non-testimonial evidence may be filed, argued, and decided.
When a case eventually reaches a public trial, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to Mr Sedensky.
Only about five percent of criminal cases ever to get to a trial.
If a defendant is found guilty at trial, the defendant would later be sentenced by a judge. A presentence investigation is prepared to help a judge decided on a suitable sentence. Both the prosecution and the defense make sentencing recommendations to the judge.
Convictions are subject to appeal by the defendant. In such cases, an appellate court decides whether “errors of law” were made by the trial court. If such errors are found, a new trial may be ordered.
As the state’s attorney, Mr Sedensky works closely with area chiefs of police in performing his duties. Besides Danbury, the judicial district includes Newtown, Bethel, New Fairfield, Brookfield, Sherman, Redding, and Ridgefield.
Local police, like police in other municipalities, in effect, work for the state court system, providing information on criminal cases to the courts after the police make arrests.
Mr Sedensky became the Danbury state’s attorney in February 2007, succeeding Walter D. Flanagan, who retired after serving nearly three decades in that post.
Mr Sedensky is nationally recognized for his work in the prosecution of child abuse cases.
Mr Sedensky joined the state’s Division of Criminal Justice in July 1984 as a deputy assistant state’s attorney at Geographical Area No. 2 in Bridgeport.
He transferred to the Judicial District of Bridgeport (Part A) in 1987 and was appointed supervisory assistant state’s attorney in the Statewide Prosecution Bureau of the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney in April 2000. He held that position until his transfer to Danbury Superior Court in January 2004, where he served a senior assistant state’s attorney.
Mr Sedensky has participated in the investigation and prosecution of major felony cases including murders, financial crimes, and child and adult sexual assaults.
(Modified at at 8:43 am on 4/14/14).