Until you or a family member has been through the criminal justice system, it’s hard to know what to expect after an arrest. We regularly hear from families wondering what comes next. When do you learn what charges have been filed against you, and at what point should you engage a criminal defense attorney?
The formal part of a criminal case begins with charging documents. Typically, the officer who makes an arrest prepares a report. The prosecutor’s office then reviews this report, deciding what charges to file. These charges can be more serious or less serious, and the prosecutors may choose to include fewer charges or additional charges. In some situations, the case will proceed on a citation as the formal charging document.
Both accusations and indictments are forms of charging documents, and prosecutors choose which to use based on the severity of the potential charges.
Misdemeanors typically result in accusations. These charging documents are prepared and signed by the prosecutor and filed with the clerk of court.
Serious felonies typically result in indictments. These charges must first be true billed by a grand jury, which is intended to give the prosecutors’ charges an extra layer of scrutiny.
While most people are familiar with the function of a trial jury, or petit jury, a grand jury operates differently. A trial jury hears a single case, listening as attorneys, experts and witnesses present evidence. Ultimately, they decide on the verdict, determining whether someone is found guilty or not guilty in a criminal case. Once the case is complete—whether it takes a day, weeks, or several months—the jury’s work is done.
A grand jury instead sits for a set period of time, meeting up to a few times a week. In Cobb County, for example, the grand jury serves a two-month term, typically meeting one-to-two days a week. The grand jury hears evidence from the prosecutor and decides if the prosecutor’s presentment of the case warrants the proposed charges. Defendants, defense attorneys and judges are not part of the process, which makes the presentation entirely one sided.
The grand jury doesn’t determine guilt or innocence; that comes later with the trial jury. If the grand jury believes that the prosecutor’s version of the case warrants the charges, they will vote to “true bill” the case. If they do not, they will “no bill” the case and prosecutors will have to try again with a later grand jury or rethink the charges. While there are some exceptions, most felonies require indictment by grand juries.
If you’ve been arrested, charged on an accusation or indicted, it’s critical to obtain representation as soon as possible. Indictments are used for serious felonies, but a skilled criminal defense attorney can evaluate the situation and see if there are opportunities to reduce the charges or have the case dismissed.
While many people underestimate misdemeanor charges, these cases still have the potential to negatively influence your life for years to come. Contact us to schedule a Defense Strategy Meeting.