If you have been watching crime shows, you may have an idea of how a prosecutor may decide to charge an individual with a crime. But you may not have a complete understanding of the process. The truth is, a lot happens between the arrest and the courtroom, and you will find out more in this post.
Although not all crimes involve an arrest, the major ones do. Prosecutors often charge and prosecute minor misdemeanors without arrests. For instance, many traffic violators get a traffic ticket with information on how to pay it without an arrest. But for many serious crimes, an arrest is likely.
After an arrest, a police officer writes a report about it, including the events leading to the arrest, reasons, dates, times, and witnesses, and forwards it to the prosecutor. The officer charges the person with a crime, but it is subject to review by the prosecutor.
Prosecution or not
A prosecutor reviews the arrest report and may decide to:
- Decline to prosecute.
- Modify the charges.
- Enhance the charges to make them more serious.
That means the prosecutor may not pursue charges just because an officer arrested you. Prosecutors must consider critical aspects, including conservation of judicial resources, office policies, and the prosecutor’s notion of justice.
The decision to prosecute an individual is the beginning of a daunting process. If charged with a crime, seeking legal guidance from a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible is helpful to put you in the best position before your first court appearance.
A decision to prosecute doesn’t mean you are guilty as the accused. It only means that sufficient evidence requires you to attend court, and you are innocent until proven guilty. A prosecutor may decide to file charges with the trial court or take it to the grand jury. The grand jury checks on the prosecutor’s power, ensuring that prosecutors do not invent serious charges out of thin air.
When prosecuted, the first court appearance is usually in 3-4weeks or less. At this point, seeking legal advice from a criminal defense lawyer is vital. If the officers arrested you and detained you, you are likely to be charged if a decision to prosecute is made while you are in custody. If they released you on bail, you might be charged upon return to custody.
The custody sergeant will read out the offense and provide you with a charge sheet that stipulates the charges. They will note your response on the charge sheet if you wish to comment.
The custody sergeant then decides whether you may be released on bail to attend court sessions on a later date and may impose conditions—for instance, prohibition from direct or indirect contact with the complainant or witnesses. If the custody sergeant believes you may fail to surrender to the court, interfere with witnesses or commit further offenses if released, they may deny you bail.
In all circumstances, it is important to attend your court appearance and plead guilty or not guilty. A criminal defense lawyer can advise you and ensure the protection of your rights.