What You Should Know About Criminal Charges

Posted on: 24 July 2023


Before the government prosecutes you for a crime, it must identify a formal accusation of the crime it suspects you of committing. The law refers to this formal accusation as a criminal charge. Below are critical issues you should know about criminal charges.

The Prosecutor Files the Charges

The person accusing you of a crime does not file criminal charges against you. Rather, the government files the charges through a prosecutor. Consider a case where someone accuses you of assault after a bar altercation. Your accuser only alerts the police about the case, the police file a report, and the prosecutor determines the criminal charges.

You Might Not Know All Charges at Arrest

The police will inform you why they are arresting you, but their reason isn't necessarily the sole criminal charge the prosecutor might file. For example, the police might arrest you for driving under the influence (DUI) if you fail a field sobriety test. However, the DUI charge is not necessarily the only one you will eventually face.

In fact, many cases attract multiple charges. For example, in addition to a DUI, the above arrest might attract an additional charge of endangering public safety.

The Government Has Limited Time to File Charges

Although you might not know all charges against you during your arrest, the government has a limited time to inform you about them. According to nolo.com, the government has a few days to inform you of your criminal charges if you are in custody. Except in a few exceptional cases, the authorities violate your rights if they hold you for long without filing charges against you.

The Prosecutor Can Amend the Charges

The court will inform you of your criminal charges during your arraignment (first court appearance). However, the prosecutor reserves the right to amend these charges. The prosecutor can add or drop some charges. The prosecutor can also upgrade or downgrade your charges. For example, the prosecutor can upgrade a misdemeanor to a felony if they get new evidence.

The Charges Are Public Information

Many people know that criminal convictions are a matter of public record but do not know that charges are public information too. The only way to make your criminal charges private is to have the court seal them. States law determines the criteria for sealing criminal records. For example, many states seal records that endanger public safety.

The best way to avoid a criminal conviction is to use an experienced defense lawyer. The lawyer will determine the best defense based on your criminal charge.

Contact a local criminal defense lawyer to learn more.