The phrase "to press charges" means that a victim of a criminal action reports that action to the police, filing a police report so the district attorney or local prosecutor can then prosecute a case. Generally, this causes criminal charges to be brought by the prosecutor against an accused person. Once those criminal charges are filed, the accused may be arrested and will have to either arrange a plea bargain with the prosecutor or will have to stand trial for the crime and potentially face jail time or other penalties.
Pressing charges is different than suing in civil court. When a person decides to take this action, he will not benefit monetarily as a result of the outcome of the case. Instead, the case will essentially be out of his hands and handled by a prosecutor; he may be called upon to testify at a trial or to provide evidence to support the charges, but the onus is ultimately on the prosecutor to create a theory of the case, to collect evidence and to try the case. In a civil suit, on the other hand, the plaintiff sues and must prove that the defendant injured him either negligently or on purpose; the plaintiff then recovers monetary damages if he can prove these elements.
If a person decides to press charges, he must report the event that occurred in as much detail as possible. The prosecutor will then review the information provided and determine whether to prosecute or not. Not every situation leads to an arrest or trial. Sometimes, the prosecutor will decide there is insufficient evidence to arrest the accused and take him to trial; other times, the prosecutor will determine the behavior of the accused did not meet all the elements of the crime and therefore no criminal sanctions are appropriate.
At times, a prosecutor may also try a case even if the victim decides not to press charges. Because a law has been broken, the accused defendant's actions are not just a crime against the victim, but also against the state and its laws. As such, a prosecutor doesn't necessarily need a victim to cooperate, and he can subpoena or compel a victim to testify to prove his case if necessary. This may occur in domestic violence cases where a victim may be unlikely to wish to prosecute his or her her significant other, especially if he or she stays in the abusive relationship.
What Does It Mean To Press Charges?
Though it’s a term commonly heard on television or in the movies, pressing charges is an important part of bringing justice to a victim of a crime. However, many people misunderstand what it means to press charges. The term means to take legal action against someone or to lodge an official accusation against the offending party to be sorted out in a court of law. The accusation must be the commission of a crime and have sufficient evidence to prove it, which is why not just anyone is able to press charges.
Who Can Press Charges?
Even if you have been wronged, you are not able to formally press charges against the offender. You can give your statement to the police and any evidence you have collected, but the individual being accused may not necessarily be arrested right away and charged with a crime. If the police witness the crime in question, they can formally make an arrest based on their observation. If not and there is no probable cause for an arrest, law enforcement officers will need to collect evidence to present to the county prosecutor before charges may be placed upon the individual.
As the victim in the case, you can support the police by offering evidence or your testimony of the event. Often times it is this willingness to participate in the process that leads people to believe they are pressing charges. Filing a police report is the start of pressing charges, but it’s the prosecutor who will formally determine which charges are appropriate.
What Determines Charges?
The amount of evidence provided by the victim and the police inform the prosecutor what type of charges could be filed against an offender. There are different categories of crimes, and based on the evidence provided, the prosecutor determines which crimes were committed and what could potentially be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Charges could range from a misdemeanor to a felony.
How To Press Charges on Someone
When you have been the victim of a crime, perhaps theft, vandalism, abuse or otherwise, you will need to make a formal record of the incident with your local police. You can either go to the local police station or you can call and have officers respond to your location where the crime took place. If the offender is still on-site where the crime took place, it’s possible that an arrest can be made right away. This can only take place if there is probable cause. Evidence for probable cause includes:
- Eyewitness testimony from witnesses on scene
- Testimony from the victim
- Physical evidence recovered or observed at the crime scene
- Presence of physical injuries to the victim
- Video or photographs of the incident
- Statements made by the accused
Filing the police report gives law enforcement permission to open an investigation into the case and file a charging document or criminal complaint in court. From there, the accused becomes the defendant and must answer to the charges placed on his record.
How Long Does It Take To Press Charges on Someone?
Even though you may be the victim, you can’t force the prosecutor to move forward with charging the accused. Your cooperation will encourage charges to be pressed, but the prosecutor has to look at all the evidence and determine if the case is strong enough to stand up to a trial. In some cases, the prosecutor must also present the charges to a judge or grand jury to determine if there is enough evidence to move forward with a trial.
Cooperating With the Prosecution
Most of the time, a prosecutor can press charges against an offender without the cooperation of the victim. Some victims are afraid of what may happen if charges are pressed, such as in domestic abuse or assault cases, but the prosecutor can move forward anyway. If the victim doesn’t cooperate, it takes a lot longer for the charges to be filed. Legal documents like subpoenas need to be issued, and sometimes, it takes a bench warrant to get a victim to appear in court. Cooperating is the most effective way to have charges pressed quickly.
Filing Private Charges
Some states allow a private individual to press a criminal complaint against an individual for minor or misdemeanor crimes. Things like simple battery and trespassing could be brought to court without the use of a prosecutor or the involvement of the police, but it is rare. Attempting to get charges filed on your own without legal help and the involvement of the police could also see a significant delay in legal action.