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Screening by Prosecutor

Who decides whether to file criminal charges against someone?

After the police arrest someone, the prosecutor decides whether to file criminal charges in court. The prosecutor usually talks to police before making this decision and sometimes there is an investigation where evidence is collected.

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Why do prosecutors sometimes choose not to file charges?

The prosecutor may decide not to file charges because:

The prosecutor also can reduce charges to less serious levels, such as from felonies to misdemeanors.

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What is the grand jury?

The grand jury has 12-18 citizens who serve for several weeks and up to 4 months. The prosecutor presents evidence about alleged felonies to the grand jurors who will determine if there is enough evidence to take the cases to trial. The prosecutor presents information from police officers, victims, and other witnesses to find out what each person knows about the alleged crime. Each case may take an hour, or as long as several days for the prosecutor to present the evidence.

Unlike trial jurors, grand jurors can question the witnesses themselves and there is no judge present while the grand jury meets. The grand jury meets in private. Defendants, victims, and the public cannot attend unless subpoenaed to testify. If the grand jury decides that the evidence is strong enough for trial, it returns an indictment and the case continues. If the grand jury decides the evidence is weak, it does not return an indictment and the case does not move forward.

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What is an indictment?

An indictment is a written document from the grand jury that accuses the defendant of a felony crime, based on evidence the prosecutor presents. The grand jury is a panel of citizens who hear the state's evidence against the accused in a closed hearing where the prosecutor presents information from police officers, victims, and other witnesses. The goal is to find out what each witness knows about the alleged crime. The grand jury returns an indictment when it finds there is enough evidence to take the case to trial.

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What is an information?

Instead of a defendant being indicted by a grand jury, a defendant can waive the right to an indictment and agree to the prosecutor filing charges. In this situation, the prosecutor’s filing charges happens in a document called an "information." Defendants often waive the indictment as part of a plea agreement.

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Rev. 30 April 2019
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