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Unlike the federal government, the states aren’t required to use grand juries. However, some states use them anyway, and others don’t. In states where grand juries aren’t used, criminal cases begin with a complaint. Sometimes an “information” is filed, which essentially is the same things as a complaint. It’s an accusatory instrument that specifies the crime you’re being charged with committing.
In states that use grand juries, the process usually is identical or very similar to the federal process. In some states, a grand jury indictment is required for any felony prosecution. In other states, the prosecuting attorney has the option of getting a grand jury indictment or filing a complaint. In still other states, a criminal case can begin with a complaint, but you can’t be taken to trial unless a grand jury indicts you first.
You need to check the laws and courts rules in your state to see if you case can go to trial on a complaint alone.
It’s critical to the prosecution that a criminal complaint is accurate and complete. If it’s not, the prosecution may not be able to take you to trial. You may be able to get the complaint “dismissed” or thrown out if, for example, it doesn’t:
- Show probable cause that that you committed the crime specified in the complaint
- Properly charge a crime by not stating all of the essential elements of the crime charged. For example, say state law defines burglary as: (1) Entering a home; (2) At night; (3) Without permission; (4) With the intent to commit a crime in the home. If a complaint charges you with burglary and states that you broke into a building without permission with the intent to steal goods or money, the complaint doesn’t properly allege the crime of burglary
If you’re named in a criminal complaint and you think it contains errors, you should ask an attorney to look at it immediately.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I was arrested two days ago, but I haven’t been told if I’m going to stand trial. How long can they make me wait?
- Do we have grand juries in our state? How long does it take for a grand jury to decide if I should go to trial?
- My name is misspelled in the criminal complaint that was filed against me. Can we get it thrown out?