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How does a criminal or juvenile case get formally charged in Georgia?

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Georgia criminal, juvenile, and traffic cases go to a prosecutor’s office to determine the formal charges. This is typically after someone is given a ticket, arrested, or otherwise charged by law enforcement.  The charges that someone was originally given by police are not always the same charges a prosecutor charges the person with.  Some criminal prosecutors in Georgia will change the charges.  This can include adding, removing, or modifying the criminal or juvenile charges a person is facing.

When a case goes to court (typically for an arraignment at a first court date), the prosecutor will have formally charged the case.  These formal criminal or juvenile charges are typically on one of four types of charging documents:

  1. Uniform Traffic Citation (or UTC)
  2. Accusation
  3. Indictment
  4. Petition

This often leads people to questions about how a prosecutor decides what charges to file and what the different charging documents are.

How does a criminal prosecutor decide what charges to bring?

Typically, the prosecutors who are making the decisions in these cases are Assistant Solicitor Generals for misdemeanor cases and Assistant District Attorneys in felony or juvenile cases.  Different prosecutors will conduct varying amounts of investigation when determining what charges to bring.  The factors that come in to play are:

  • how much time the prosecutor has;
  • the prosecutor’s level of diligence;
  • whether the prosecutor considers the case serious;
  • the complexity of the case; and
  • other factors that can sway a prosecutor’s level of interest.

When making the decision about what Georgia criminal charges to bring, a prosecutor may review various pieces of evidence.  These can include:

  • videos from patrol cars;
  • body camera videos from officers;
  • surveillance videos;
  • police reports;
  • arrest warrants;
  • witness statements;
  • crime lab reports; or
  • other evidence that may exist in cases.

Just because a prosecutor may review all of this information, it is rare that they review all of this in every case before filing formal charges.  Some Georgia prosecutors offices don’t even have all of this information before formally charging an adult or juvenile with a violation of the law.

Early intervention be a Georgia criminal defense lawyer can allow a defense attorney to point out problems a prosecutor may have with their case and encourage them to dismiss or reduce charges before formally charging a case.  For help with your Georgia criminal or juvenile case, call us at 770-720-6336 for a no cost no obligation Defense Strategy Meeting to learn how we can help.

Uniform Traffic Citations

Uniform Traffic Citations (or UTCs, as they are sometimes called) are the most common charging documents used in traffic ticket cases in Georgia.  This is generally the case whether the traffic case is a juvenile, city, or county court.  Usually, charges like: speeding, reckless driving, disobeying a traffic control device, failure to maintain lane, and other traffic related charges that a person is not arrested for are charged on these UTCs.

Generally, prosecutors do not change the Uniform Traffic Citation as part of the charging process.  They will simply arraign the person on that charge and see if they want to plead guilty or not guilty.  There are some legal challenges that can be raised if a prosecutor attempts to go forward with a trial on an UTC.  These challenges usually need to be raised within 10 days of arraignment.

Many prosecutors offices do not this it is worth the effort to formally charge traffic cases on accusations or petitions, when most of them are negotiated resolutions.  For more information about how different types of traffic charges could impact your driver’s license, click here.

Accusation

An accusation is the formal charging document that is used in most adult misdemeanor cases.  It can also be used in some specific types of felony cases.  The accusation is a document prepared by a prosecutor in a District Attorney’s Office or a Solicitor General’s Office that alleges the way a person violated a particular criminal laws in that county (or city) in Georgia. Typically, the accusation must include the:

  • county (or city for municipal courts) in Georgia that the crime is alleged to have taken place;
  • name of the accused;
  • way the accused is alleged to have violated Georgia’s criminal laws;
  • date the offense is alleged to have taken place; and
  • signature of  prosecuting attorney.

The signature itself does not mean that the accusation is a sworn document or an affidavit.  This is not a requirement unless the person has not been arrested or previously charged for charges arising out of this situation.

Basically, a prosecutor can choose any misdemeanor charges they think are appropriate in a case, write them up, and sign them as they deem appropriate.  In some instances this can lead to a cycle of charges being changed, modified, or increased by a prosecutor to try to leverage a plea from someone charged with a crime because more charges in a case can increase a criminal defendant’s risks in that case.

In some instances, the ease of changing an accusation causes prosecutors not to take the time to make sure that they do everything correctly the first time.  This means that there may be more opportunities to challenge how a case is charged on an accusation.

Indictment

Generally, an indictment is considered the most formal charging document that can be used in a Georgia criminal case.  To indict a Georgia criminal case a prosecutor must present evidence to a Grand Jury.  A Georgia Grand Jury consists of 16 to 23 people.  In criminal cases they will hear evidence presented by a prosecutor.  After hearing the evidence, they will determine whether or not to indict an individual with violating Georgia’s criminal laws.

In most cases, Georgia grand jury proceedings are not open to the public.  This means that the only evidence that the grand jury gets to hear is evidence presented by the prosecutor’s office.

Much like an accusation, an indictment is generally required to include the county, natures of the charges, and incident date.

Petition

A petition is the formal charging document used in Georgia’s juvenile criminal (or delinquency) cases.  Much like an accusation, a juvenile delinquency petition is prepared by and signed by a prosecutor.  Unlike an indictment, it does not require a grand jury or any other independent determination of the appropriateness of the charge.  Unlike an accusation, it can be used to charge a Georgia juvenile with either felony or misdemeanor offenses in Juvenile Court.  In most Georgia Juvenile Courts, an Assistant District Attorney prosecutes juvenile cases and prepares these petitions.

Challenges to the Indictment, Accusation, Petition, or UTC

In most cases, challenges to a charging document, like an indictment, accusation, petition, or uniform traffic citation are brought through a demurrer.  The challenges that can be raised in a demurrer may include whether the:

  • allegation violates the law;
  • charges are specific enough to put the accused on notice of what they must defend against;
  • dates or date ranges in the charges are narrow enough;
  • alleged victim is properly specified;
  • county where the crime is alleged to have taken place is specified;
  • as well as other issues that can be specific to the nature of the charges.

A challenge to one of these charging documents generally needs to be filed within 10 days of arraignment, otherwise the challenge may be forever lost in a case.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can review the charging documents in a criminal case and file the appropriate challenges to the charging documents, when they are insufficient.  However, their ability to do this is extremely limited when the accused waits until after their arraignment to hire an attorney.

Our Georgia Criminal, Juvenile, and Traffic Defense Team can help you make sure all of your rights our protected and the appropriate challenges to the charges in your case are raised.  While we handle matters throughout the north half of Georgia, most of our clients are facing charges in Cobb County, Cherokee County, and their respective cities, including: Canton, Woodstock, Kennesaw, Marietta, Smyrna, Acworth, Holly Springs, and Ball Ground.

If you want to learn how we can help with a Georgia criminal, juvenile, or traffic case, call 770-720-6336 to schedule your complimentary Defense Strategy Meeting.

If you aren’t ready for a complimentary Defense Strategy Meeting, click here to download our free eBook 5 Things Not to Do After You’ve Been Charged with a Crime!  This book can help you avoid common mistakes people make when facing a criminal or juvenile case.

 
Paul Ghanouni

Experience, Expertise

 
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