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How Criminal Charges are Filed

Most folks don't understand that, generally, the ultimate decision whether to file criminal charges rests alone with the prosecutor (in most cases, that means your local county District Attorney's Office), not any other agency or individual. It’s neither the law enforcement agencies nor the alleged victims who decide.


So, when an officer tells you that he or she can make your charges disappear or decrease if you talk, he or she is yanking your chain. The way it works is that after officers make an arrest, they write reports that get submitted to the DA’s Office (or another prosecuting agency). The prosecutors evaluate the reports and decide whether there is strong enough evidence to support the filing of criminal charges. In other words, just because you were arrested does not mean a criminal case will result. It’s all within the prosecutor’s discretion. Frequently, the DA will depart from the officer’s recommended charges contained in the report and either charge more or less than what was recommended.


Similarly, just because an alleged victim tells the DA not to file charges or to dismiss a case that’s already filed does not mean the case will be closed. For instance, this frequently takes place in domestic violence cases. Alleged victims will very often ask for the charges against their spouses or significant others to be dropped and will say that nothing happened, that it was all a misunderstanding, etc. The DA looks at (or is supposed to look at) the evidence of the offense. He or she will listen to the recording of the 911 call made by the alleged victim the night of the offense and the recording of interviews conducted by law enforcement, look at pictures (e.g., of broken furniture, any bruising, scratches, etc.), and any other evidence that paints the picture of what occurred. If the evidence is ultimately strong enough, it’s entirely proper for the prosecutor to ignore the alleged victim’s requests and press forward with the case. 

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