If you suspect you have been—or are going to be—charged with a crime, you are likely feeling anxious about what comes next.
Understanding the arc of the judicial process is critical to ensuring your ability to protect your rights. Law enforcement officials have no legal obligation to notify you ahead of time if they plan to file charges against you. Therefore, while there is not a direct way to find out if you have been charged, there are ways you can protect yourself should the situation arise.
We will outline different possibilities below to help you answer, “How do I know if I have been charged with a crime?”.
Being Placed Under Arrest
The simplest and most direct way to find out you are being charged with a crime is if a police officer or detective places you under arrest. Most of the time, the police are required by law to present an arrest warrant in order to detain you. However, it is important to understand that the presentation of a warrant may only take place once they have moved you to the police station for questioning.
An Arrest Is Not The Same As Being Charged
Even if you have been arrested, it is not guaranteed that prosecutors will pursue criminal charges. The public defender’s office retains a lot of leeway in deciding when to charge suspects and when to drop the case. Several factors have a bearing on the decision to pursue charges, among them:
- The availability of resources
- Policies specific to that jurisdiction or office
- An individual prosecutor’s concept of justice
Receiving A Summons
You can still be charged with a crime even if you have not been arrested. Instead, you might receive a summons requiring you to appear at an arraignment. An arraignment is a hearing at which you will learn of the charges against you, have the opportunity to record your plea, and potentially be released on bail at the court’s discretion.
Requesting A Warrant Check
If you suspect you have been charged with a crime even though the police have not yet contacted you, you can ask your local police department to perform a warrant check. This will uncover any charges filed against you. It is important to keep in mind that the police are under no obligation to inform you of any active investigation, even if you are a suspect.
That said, if any charges have been officially filed, you retain the right to receive a copy of the police report. This will outline the crimes you have been accused of.
The Role Of A Grand Jury
The purpose of a grand jury is to act as a balancing force on the power of the prosecutor. Because of the enormous leeway the prosecutor’s office retains when it comes to bringing charges, as outlined above, the judicial system enacts this check to ensure a prosecutor does bring frivolous or invented charges.
Before a trial can proceed, the prosecutor has to demonstrate to the satisfaction of a grand jury that available evidence warrants charging the suspect with a crime.
The Difference Between A Grand Jury And Trial Jury
A grand jury operates differently than the jury that eventually decides a defendant’s guilt or innocence at trial. A grand jury typically has more members than a trial jury. Unlike a trial jury, members of a grand jury can participate in the process, asking questions of the prosecutor or witnesses. And, perhaps most importantly, a grand jury is not required to return a unanimous verdict in order for the charges to proceed – only a simple majority.
The Role Of A Preliminary Hearing
In certain instances, the court might hold a preliminary hearing in which the judge, as opposed to a grand jury, decides if the state has suitable evidence to proceed to trial. Generally speaking, prosecutors are required to file their evidence very quickly – usually within two to three days. Because of this, the scope and nature of the prosecutor’s evidence and the related charges are liable to change over time, sometimes drastically.
The Importance Of Retaining Legal Counsel
If you are subjected to any or all of the judicial proceedings outlined above, the value of legal counsel cannot be overstated. The system does not operate on the assumption that individual citizens will fully understand the legal process or their rights as it pertains to that process. The guidance of an expert is a necessary component of navigating the judicial process.
Under What Circumstances Do You Need A Criminal Defense Lawyer?
Even if you think your legal risk is minimal or nonexistent, it never hurts to confer with an expert just to be safe. Certainly, you should get in touch with a defense lawyer as soon as possible if you are experiencing any of the following circumstances:
- You have been placed under arrest: As explained above, being arrested does not necessarily mean you will be charged; but either way, you will face significant legal exposure while you are in custody, and a defense lawyer is the person best equipped to defend your rights.
- You have received a summons: If you are required to appear at an arraignment, you will want to have a lawyer present. They can represent your interests to the court and help you understand and navigate what can be a confusing and difficult process.
- You suspect that you are being investigated: Even if charges have not yet materialized, if you suspect that you are the subject of an investigation, we highly recommend you retain legal counsel. Your lawyer will be better positioned to protect your rights the earlier they get involved in the process.
Getting In Touch With A Lawyer
If you are experiencing any of the above circumstances, contact us as soon as possible. We will review your case and get you the best possible legal services to protect your rights through the judicial process. We have the experience and expertise to guide you through the complexities of the legal system. Call today!