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Criminal Justice: Your Rights and Filing Criminal Charges

April 23, 2011

Charley’s Note:

So, you might have wondered, “How can I bring criminal charges against someone who is breaking the law and possibly endangering me or others?” Or, “At what point does civil contempt for disobeying a court order become a crime?”

Even in family law, there are times when one must seek criminal prosecution for a deadbeat dad versus filing a civil complaint with the court in order to enforce a court order. At some point, constructive civil contempt may segue to criminal charges in such areas as criminal nonsupport for child support, alimony, or medical insurance support. You may need to file criminal charges for parental kidnapping or even domestic violence circumstances for which you need to obtain a Protective Order.

But where do you start? Do you contact your jurisdiction’s prosecuting attorney, your local law enforcement, or a commissioner?

Much of this depends on the type of crime you believe is being committed against you (or someone you love). And, while your complaint may be real, you might feel like you’re living a nightmare as you attempt to lodge your complaint with the appropriate prosecuting authority. My point is, don’t give up if you feel like a ping-pong ball in the middle of an eight-lane super highway.  You will get to your destination, even if you have to go the scenic route or travel the unbeaten path. But first, you need to learn how to get where you plan to go…

While articles in this blog address scenarios that I have experienced, each state and each locality has their own statutes and approach to filing a criminal charge. And, as you know, I am not an attorney so I cannot give you legal advice. However, I can refer my readers to the American Bar Association (“ABA”) for guidance on criminal law basics. The ABA is the leading national bar association for United States attorneys, offering publications, CLE, and information on a very broad array of legal topics.

*  *  *

The ABA Family Legal Guide tells us that there are basically three ways in which formal charges may be brought: an information, an indictment, or a citation.

An information is a written document filed by a prosecutor alleging that the defendant committed a crime. The information may be based upon a criminal complaint, which is a petition to the prosecutor requesting that criminal charges be initiated.

An indictment is a formal charge imposed by the grand jury, which is a group of citizens convened by the court. Its function is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to charge a person with a crime and to bring him or her to trial. The grand jury conducts its proceedings in secret and has broad investigative powers. The federal system and about half of the states use grand juries in felony cases. The majority of defendants are not charged by a grand jury, but through some other mechanism.

citation is issued by a police officer, most often for a misdemeanor or other minor criminal matter such as jaywalking, littering, or a minor traffic offense.

None of these mechanisms determines the guilt or innocence of defendants. Rather, they indicate that the issuing authority has determined that there is sufficient evidence to bring a person to trial. (To read more, please visit the American Bar Association Family Legal Guide. Copyright © 2004 American Bar Association.)

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Be sure to read my next article, “The Differences between a Criminal Case and a Civil Case” and learn how this information might apply to you. And remember, if you are in immediate danger — call 911 or go to your local law enforcement office immediately.

“Justice delayed is justice denied.” 

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