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What You Need to Know About Filing Criminal Charges

Of all the concepts we explain to clients and potential clients at free initial consultations, what comes up most often is “being charged with a crime.” Many people assume it is the police, or the victim, who decide whether charges get filed. Moreover, some innocent people can’t even fathom how they can possibly be charged with a crime when, in their eyes, there cannot possibly exist any evidence which proves they are guilty.

The first thing to understand about criminal charges being filed is that the police do not file charges; victims do not file charges. Neither the police nor the victim get to decide whether or not charges will be filed. The second thing to understand is that once the government official responsible for deciding whether or not to file charges does decide to file charges, the process of “charging” or “filing a charge” does not involve a judge, presenting police reports, or submitting any evidence to the court for approval whatsoever.

Why People Think Police File Charges?

It’s understandable why most people think the police file charges for crimes, after all, police typically say, “You are under arrest for [blank],” not, “You are under arrest on suspicion of [blank].” Police and jail staff also issue Promises to Appear in court and Citations which say “Charges,” rather than “Expected Charges” or “Recommended Charges.” Lastly, Inmate Locator websites, which friends and family use to find and bail loved ones from jail, also say “Charges,” even when no charges have yet been filed.

Filing Crimes In California

In California, when a County District Attorney’s Office receives information that a person is believed to have committed a crime, usually in a police report, a Deputy District Attorney (often called the “Charging Deputy”) reads the police report and decides:

  • To file a criminal charge or charges,
  • Not to file any charges, or
  • To send the case back to the police for further investigation.

The District Attorney’s Office has complete discretion to file, or not file, criminal charges, and can even file different charges than the police recommended in the report. The decision to charge or not depends essentially on the Charging Deputy’s opinion regarding guilt and also regarding the perceived likelihood of obtaining a conviction at trial. The victim’s input may matter to the prosecutor’s office as well, but ultimately the prosecutor can file charges even if the victim doesn’t want that, and can similarly refuse to file charges even when the victim is adamant they want charges filed.

California Statute of Limitations

The prosecutor’s office has until the Statute of Limitations expires to file charges, and is therefore not time-barred from filing a charge even after the Promise to Appear date or Citation date. The Statute of Limitations typically runs from the date the crime is believed to have been committed. How long that Statute of Limitations period is depends on the crime. For example,all misdemeanors in California have a one-year Statute of Limitations. Felonies have a 3-year, 7-year, or longer Statute of Limitations. Some felonies even have no Statute of Limitations.

It is not uncommon to attend your Promise to Appear or Citation date and discover the District Attorney’s Office has not yet filed any charges. Such is not an indication that charges won’t be charged in the future, after the Charging Deputy has had read and reviewed your police report.

Once the Charging Deputy has decided to file charges, and which types of charges to file, they will write a document called a “Complaint” and file that document with the Clerk at the Criminal Division of the County Superior Court. The Complaint does not need to be more specific than to state:

“We believe John Everyman committed the crime of violating Penal Code section 123, in the County of Alameda, on March 23, 2018.”

The police reports and other evidence are not attached to the Complaint, and no one reviews the Complaint allegations or tells the prosecutor, “There isn’t enough evidence to charge that,” because no evidence is presented at this stage of the process and no judge is involved with the case yet.

Nevertheless, once a person is charged, they may suffer the burden of having to come to court, miss work, hire a lawyer, or even have a trial, all without and before any evidence is presented to a judge for any independent review.

Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers in Dublin

At the Law Office of Ivan O.B. Morse, we are dedicated to serving clients throughout California who have been accused of crimes. If you or someone you know has been arrested by police, or is under investigation by the police, you should contact our law firm to get help and advice. We have the skills and resources you need to fight for the justice you deserve.

When you hire our legal team, we will check for the filing of criminal charges every week until:

  • Charges are filed against you,
  • A decision not to file charges has been made, or
  • The Statute of Limitations expires with no charge filed against you.

Our legal professionals will communicate any of these events to you and, if permitted, we will appear in court “on your behalf.” In addition, if the Statute of Limitations does expire with no charges filed against you, we will contact you (even if years later) to inform you regarding your eligibility to have your Arrest Record Sealed.

Call (888) 865-0741 to set up a free case evaluation with a Dublin criminal defense attorney today.