How are Criminal Charges Filed?
Criminal trials make for great TV drama, but the beginning of the trial is often left off of the script. Dramatic illustrations of the criminal procedure often include the detective work and the arrest, immediately followed by the trial. But it's important to understand what happens in-between. So how are criminal charges brought against someone?
How to Bring Criminal Charges Method 1: The Information
The first way a criminal trial can start is through a document called the "information." This document is written by the prosecutor and is somewhat similar to a complaint in a civil trial. After probable cause is found in the preliminary hearing, the information is filed. In it, the prosecutor describes what happened in a series of statements, and then shows how the defendant's actions are crimes. The substance of the information can come from police reports and other documents produced through police investigation, but it can also come from complaints brought by citizens.
In most states, prosecutors proceed to trial after felony charges are brought by information. In the federal system, a prosecutor can bring misdemeanor or felony charges by information (if a grand jury is waived).
How to Bring Criminal Charges Method 2: Indictment
The second way a criminal trial can start is by indictment through a grand jury. A prosecutor will review evidence gathered by the police and give that evidence to a jury. The jury will then decide if the defendants should go to trial. A prosecutor might choose this method if she is not sure she will succeed in a criminal trial, and considers the grand jury proceedings as a test trial.
How to Bring Criminal Charges Method 3: Citation
The third way to bring criminal charges is the easiest. A police officer may see someone committing a minor crime, such as speeding, jaywalking, or littering, and write up a ticket, also known as a citation. Citations can only be used to charge someone with an infraction, which are minor crimes generally not punishable by prison. The person who receives the ticket has the opportunity to contest it, or can just pay a fine to end the criminal proceedings.
Importance Of The Pre-Trial Period
While there are different ways that charges can be brought, the process that they initiate is what's ultimately important, especially from the perspective of a criminal defendant. While it may not make for good theater, this process is shaped by several constitutional protections to prevent abuse by the government. After all, during the period before trial, a defendant and his or her attorney have the opportunity to object to actions by the prosecution and can also enter negotiations to possibly reduce the charges or enter into a plea bargain.
The defense team can also object to certain items of evidence (such as confessions) and prevent their admission at trial, or they can use this period to introduce more favorable evidence. In other words, in many cases it's the period before trial that can ultimately shape the outcome in a case.
How are Criminal Charges Filed? Talk to an Attorney
Facing criminal charges can be terrifying and confusing, and you may be confused about how criminal charges are brought in the first place. The assistance of a qualified professional can make an enormous difference, both in your stress during the defense and in the outcome. Contact a local criminal defense attorney to discuss the facts of your case and to get help crafting the best defense to criminal charges.