charging document | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

A charging document is a document that, when filed with the court, begins formal criminal proceedings against the defendant, such as complaints, informations, and indictments.

This term is used generically because the precise type of document depends on the charging method used by the particular jurisdiction and what they call the document.

A charging document is a formal document filed with a court that initiates criminal proceedings against a defendant. This document serves as the basis for the criminal charges against the defendant and is the first step in the process of holding the defendant accountable for the alleged criminal activity.

There are several types of charging documents that may be used, depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the alleged crime. One common type of charging document is a complaint, which is typically filed by a prosecutor and sets forth the basic facts of the alleged crime and the charges being brought against the defendant.

Another type of charging document is an information, which is similar to a complaint but is typically filed by the prosecution after a preliminary hearing. The information sets forth the charges against the defendant and the evidence supporting those charges.

In some cases, a grand jury may be convened to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges against a defendant. If the grand jury determines that there is sufficient evidence, they will issue an indictment, which is a formal document that sets forth the charges against the defendant and the evidence supporting those charges.

Once the charge has been filed with the court, the defendant will be formally notified of the charges against them and will have the opportunity to respond. They may choose to plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest to the charges. If they plead guilty or no contest, they will be sentenced by the court. If they plead not guilty, the case will proceed to trial.

The use of such documents is an important aspect of the criminal justice system because it ensures that criminal charges are brought in a fair and consistent manner. It also provides defendants with notice of the charges against them and an opportunity to respond. Without charging documents, the criminal justice system would lack a clear and consistent method for bringing criminal charges against defendants.

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Last Modified: 06/29/2021

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