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How Are Criminal Charges Filed?

Posted on April 1, 2021 in

Getting arrested is not the same as having criminal charges filed against you. These are two separate processes, and one does not necessarily always lead to the other. Learn about the different ways criminal charges are filed in Arizona. If you or a loved one has recently been arrested in Arizona, discuss your specific case in detail with a Queen Creek criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer can help you understand what comes next.

Who Files Criminal Charges?

In the civil justice system, the victim of a defendant’s negligence is the party that files the lawsuit. In criminal law, however, it is not the victim that files charges. Although victims play an important role in the process by cooperating with the police, providing evidence and agreeing to press charges, it is a government prosecutor, not the victim, who decides whether or not to enter criminal charges against a suspect.

The government prosecutor is the person responsible for filing charges due to the fact that criminal activity is a public concern. Crimes impact more than just an individual victim; they impact the entire community. It is a prosecutor’s job to see that justice is pursued on behalf of the victim and the public as a whole. A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to his or her county to see that justice is served.

3 Different Ways Criminal Charges Are Filed

Most cases start with the police being called to the scene of a potential crime. The police will investigate, gather evidence and may arrest a suspect. From there, the police will bring the arrest report to the government prosecutor, who will determine if there is enough evidence to file criminal charges and if prosecuting the case is worth the public resources that will be used. If so, the prosecutor can officially file the charges in three different ways.

The Information Document

The first way to file criminal charges is a written complaint submitted by the prosecutor, known as the “information.” This document describes the basic facts of the case and explains how the defendant’s actions break the law. A prosecutor typically writes up the information using the police arrest report, related documents produced by the investigation and evidence from the alleged victim.


The second way to file charges is with an indictment. An indictment is a formal charge of a serious crime – usually a felony – that comes from a grand jury. A grand jury is 15 to 23 people who hear the prosecutor’s side of the case and the evidence gathered.

The grand jury will decide if the evidence supports the filing of official criminal charges. If so, the grand jury will issue an indictment, which grants permission for the case to move forward. Indictments are most commonly used when the prosecutor desires a test trial to see if the case will succeed in a criminal trial.


The third method of filing criminal charges is issuing a citation. This is the simplest way to bring charges, but it is only available for infractions or petty offenses – not for misdemeanor or felony crimes. Petty offenses are minor crimes that are not punishable by jail time. For example, a police officer can issue a citation against a driver who committed a moving violation, such as speeding. This citation gives the defendant the opportunity to either contest the charges by attending a hearing or pay the fine to end the criminal case.

What To Do if Charges Have Been Filed Against You

If you find out that a government prosecutor has filed criminal charges against you in Arizona, consult with a criminal defense lawyer right away. The criminal justice process is daunting and complicated. It is imperative to protect your legal rights as a suspect or defendant in a criminal case. You may face an arrest, an arraignment hearing and many other confusing legal processes.

A defense attorney can help you through this difficult time. The right defense lawyer can guide you through a criminal case while protecting your rights and best interests. Contact a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix today for more information about criminal charges.