Generally speaking, a criminal charge happens after someone has been arrested. An arrest is when a private citizen is held by the police, who must first have read them their “Miranda Rights”. Everybody knows these rights, not in the least because they appear in almost every movie and TV show! One of those rights is that all men/women have the right to an attorney. Adam M Smith wants to stress the importance of taking advantage of that right immediately, as well as of another right described as part of Miranda: the right to remain silent.
Adam M Smith on What Happens After an Arrest
When someone is arrested, an arrest report is compiled by the police. This is generally a permanent record in which details are recorded that show the arrestee, the circumstances under which they were arrested, which district they were in and when, who the witnesses were, and how they can be contacted, and so on. This report is then sent to the prosecutor, who will review all of the information and determine whether criminal charges should be issued.
There are rules on how to file charges. In California, for instance, this must happen within 48 hours of the arrest. Those time limits are important, because if they are not upheld, the charges will not hold either. Again, this is why it is so important to take advantage of the right to an attorney.
The prosecutor will decide whether or not to issue charges and, if applicable, which charges to issue. Often, those are the charges that the police recommend in the report, but this is at the prosecutor’s discretion. They may issue more or less severe charges, for instance. If it is a misdemeanor, then it can go straight to a trial court. If, however, it is a felony, then the case will usually have to be reviewed by a Grand Jury first.
A regular criminal jury is known as a “petit jury”. They are both very similar in as such that they are made up of ordinary citizens who have been called up to sit on the Grand Jury. However, where participants in a petit jury only sit on one case, Grand Jury members often have to sit for 18 months, often from June until December of the following year. During this time, they will hear all the cases that the prosecutor wants to charge as a felony.
Some people refer to the Grand Jury hearing as a preliminary hearing. Essentially, it is an opportunity for the prosecution to demonstrate that they have reasonable grounds to press charges. The burden of proof, therefore, is not on demonstrating someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but rather that there are sufficient reasons to believe that they may have had involvement in the crime. These hearings, therefore, greatly favor the prosecution and it is very rare that a case is not brought to trial at these hearings.