5 Things You Should Know About How Criminal Charges Are Brought

If you are likely to be charged with a crime, there are five things you should know about how the process. This is especially true if the crime is a serious one.

1. The prosecutor will use one of two ways to bring charges.

If the charge is not very serious the prosecutor may choose to file an accusatory pleading in a preliminary court hearing but in more serious cases they will use a grand jury to decide whether an indictment (formal written statement of charges) should be brought against you. A grand jury proceeding is held secretly, so that your privacy is protected at this stage.

The jury should come up with a 2/3 or 3/4 majority to be able to proceed to trial and they will return with what's known as a "true bill" to indict. If there is no majority, it is called a "no bill." However, if the prosecutor still wants to continue with an indictment, they can present the evidence to the judge.

2. You can receive two or more charges for one incident.

You could receive more than one charge for various aspects of the one criminal incident. For instance, you could receive two charges if you had been stopped for drunk driving: one for driving with a blood alcohol over the legal limit and one for driving under the influence. If you were convicted of both charges, you would likely get one, or one set of punishments for the crime.

3. Overcharging is a common strategy that you should be aware of.

It is typical to overcharge a defendant for a couple of reasons. It may intimidate you into taking a plea deal where some of the charges are dropped or lowered. Also, it is easier reduce the number of charges than add them later.

4. If you have any prior charges or convictions, it is more likely that the prosecutor will consider charges now.

Even if your prior charges were for a totally different crime, they increase the likelihood of being charged for the present criminal incident.

5. When you have any prior convictions, make sure these are accurate on the complaint.

The indictment will list your prior convictions that could increase the seriousness of the charges and their consequences upon conviction. You should check this complaint carefully for inaccuracies for this reason. Also, your attorney will look at it for reasons to ask the judge to strike (or not consider) some or all of them.

If you have been arrested for a crime, you should consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible for support and advice to protect your rights.