Criminal Charges: How Cases Get Started

Criminal cases begin with a police arrest report and the prosecutor who decides what charges to file.

The prosecutor uses the arrest report to decide if one of the following should happen:

  • The case should be charged and then files a complaint with the court;
  • The case would be a felony and go to a grand jury which will decide the charges to file, or
  • No case will be pursued.

No matter what the police officer recommends, the prosecution will make the final decision as to what charges will be filed. Defendants usually find out what they're charged with at their first court appearance.

Petit vs. Grand Juries

If a felony crime is involved, a prosecutor may leave it to a grand jury to decide whether charges should be filed. A grand jury is akin to a normal trial jury in that they are comprised of randomly selected persons. The grand jurors will listen to the facts of the case and decide if charges should be brought against someone, in other words, if they should be "indicted."

On the other hand, grand juries involve considerably more time than normal juries, between 6 to 18 months on average. Where normal juries decide guilt, grand juries decide if evidence exists to warrant a trial.

Other differences include:

  • Grand juries meet in secret proceedings
  • Grand juries can be bigger—16 to 23 people
  • Grand juries need not be unanimous to indict
  • A grand jury will either return a true bill if it votes to indict, or no bill

Usually, prosecutors choose to file a complaint rather than present the case to a grand jury. In the case of a felony, the defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing. There, the prosecutor needs to show that the state has the evidence of the crime to warrant a trial. No hearing is held if the case proceeds by grand jury indictment.

If you have been charged with any sort of crime, be sure to call a Canton criminal defense attorney from Benjamin Bradley Reed, PC to obtain critical advice and representation.