What happens when you press charges: pressing charges against a criminal act

Before pressing charges against an offender who has committed a criminal act, you must know that it is the prosecutors who have the authority to decide whether to press charges against him or not. It’s not the victims. But victims tend to play an important role in charging decisions.

It is important to note that in civil lawsuits, it’s the victim who presses charges against the offender. On the other hand, in criminal cases, it is at the discretion of the prosecutor to press charges against the criminal offender. To learn more about what happens when you press charges against an individual who has committed a crime, you should read the article in full.

What happens when you press charges? A complete overview

First of all, the police will file a report against the offense if they have arrested an offender at the crime scene, or the victim has reported against the offense. The prosecutor will then read the report prepared by the police and decide if the offense is valid enough to press charges against the criminal. In some cases, the prosecutor can also inform the grand jury about the case and request them to decide the charges against the reported offense.

After that, the judge arranges a preliminary hearing to decide if the evidence is good enough to proceed further with the case. The prosecutor typically takes three days to file criminal charges. Depending on the jurisdiction, some states restrict the prosecutor to file criminal charges as early as possible. The criminal charges should be filed quickly because the intensity and significance of the crime can change over time.

The arrest and report

After arresting the criminal offender, the police are responsible to draft and present a report summarizing the events that helped them in arresting the criminal, the location from where the criminal was held, date, time, etc. With this report, a prosecutor can either:

  • File a complaint in a trial court
  • Present your arguments in front of the grand jury to present the evidence collected and tell them to decide how to move further

Prosecutor is not only awarded with the discretion to pursue the case with the criminal charges or to file the case but also with how many possible criminal charges a person can be charged with (higher or lesser both).

When to prosecute

As mentioned above, the prosecutor has the discretion to either charge a criminal offender for the offenses he has committed. Mentioned below are some important factors that the prosecutor may get influenced by:

Office policies: Offices for the prosecution often work through different policies concerning the charges they prosecute. There may be the compulsion of some crimes that they have to prosecute or a policy regarding certain cases that they do not prosecute. These include cases that they consider less important.

Prosecutor’s concept of justice: Just like any other individual, prosecutors do understand what is right and what is wrong. If the evidence is strong enough to make him believe that the crime had been done, then he will pursue the case more aggressively to serve justice to the victim. If the prosecutor finds that the case is not strong enough, he will still pursue the case considering that justice should be served and will charge the criminal with a minor offense.

The role of the grand jury

The grand jury works like general juries (also called ‘Petit juries’) except for deciding whether the charges should be brought initially or not, and to decide the innocence or guilt of a defendant on trial.

For a clearer understanding, here are the main differences between both juries.

  • A grand jury generally consists of more members than a regular jury, 23 members to be precise, whereas a regular jury is comprised of 6-12 members only
  • A grand jury reviews the evidence and decides whether the arrested individual should be tried with charges or not. It does not conclude the case with guilt or innocence like a regular jury does.
  • A grand jury takes up the criminal case in private whereas a regular jury takes up public trials.

A grand jury works behind the doors. This particularly means that the defendant is not allowed to defend himself nor his lawyers in the grand jury proceedings. Here, the prosecutors provide a bill to the jurors representing the charges. They then present witnesses and evidence to have an indictment.

If the grand jury indicts the offender (considering evidence), then it returns the bill as a ‘true bill.’ Otherwise, a ‘no bill’ is issued to the prosecutor to come back with additional evidence. Or the grand jury can also file the criminal charges regardless.

The proceedings take place secretly but the transcript of the proceedings can be obtained after the proceedings conclude. If the prosecutor does not attempt to go through a grand jury, then a preliminary hearing is held.

The preliminary hearing

If the prosecutor thinks that the case is related to a felony, then he represents evidence and asks the jury to warrant a trial. During the trial, lawyers of the defendant and prosecution counterfeit to prove the innocence or guilt of the person accused. If you have been charged with a criminal offense after the trial, then sentencing or penalties would be applied according to the severity of the offense. 

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