Understanding the Process of Criminal Charges

At William Weinberg, we believe in empowering our clients with knowledge of the criminal justice system. It's crucial to understand how law enforcement and legal professionals work together to initiate criminal cases.

When someone is arrested, law enforcement creates an arrest report that provides a narrative of the events leading up to the arrest. This document includes important details such as the time, location, and conditions of the alleged crime, as well as any available witness information. Based on this report, a prosecutor has the following options:

  1. File a formal complaint with the court, charging the individual with a misdemeanor or felony.
  2. Present the case to a grand jury, which consists of citizens tasked with determining whether felony charges should be filed.
  3. Opt not to pursue the case further.

Prosecutors have discretion to levy charges that align with, or diverge from, the initial recommendations of the police. They might file more severe charges or potentially reduce them, depending on various considerations.

Expediency in Filing Charges

In instances where an accused person remains in custody, the law mandates prompt action from prosecutors. Many jurisdictions, including California, require charges to be filed within a specific time frame—for California, it's within 48 hours. It should be noted that these initial charges can be modified. Final decisions on charges may not be rendered until after a preliminary hearing, which can occur well beyond the initial arrest.

The Decision-Making Process of Prosecutors

A variety of elements can affect a prosecutor's decision to file charges. These factors extend beyond the incident's details and may include policy directives that respond to community concerns. For instance, certain jurisdictions might require all DUI cases to proceed to trial without an opportunity for plea bargaining.

Electoral politics can also play a part, given that many prosecutors are elected and may aspire to higher office. This ambition can shape their approach to pressing charges, as they are influenced by public sentiment and the preferences of power brokers.

A prosecutor's sense of justice can also drive their decisions. Upholding the law while delivering justice may sometimes lead a prosecutor to reduce charges or even abstain from pursuing a case if it's believed to better serve the cause of justice.

The Grand Jury's Function

For felonies, a grand jury might be convened to conclude whether charges should be brought. Unlike a trial (petit) jury, a grand jury can serve for an extended period, potentially dealing with multiple cases. Grand juries deliberate in secrecy and require less than a unanimous vote to indict a suspect.

Grand Jury Proceedings Explained

During grand jury proceedings, prosecutors need only present sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for an indictment. These sessions are held in confidence, with the suspect and their defense typically absent. Suspects, if called upon to testify, can invoke their right against self-incrimination, per the Fifth Amendment.

A "true bill" results in an indictment, while a "no-bill" means no indictment. However, the absence of an indictment doesn't preclude future charges, as prosecutors can reassess and pursue multiple avenues to secure charges.

In felony cases not addressed by a grand jury, defendants are entitled to a preliminary hearing. This is where the prosecution must show enough evidence for a trial. This step can be bypassed with a grand jury indictment, which is why some prosecutors prefer it—it potentially reveals less evidence pre-trial.

The legal team at William Weinberg is committed to navigating the complexities of the criminal justice system with you. For a deeper understanding of your specific legal circumstances or to discuss a case, do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation at (949) 474-8008. Your defense is our priority.

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