How Long Does the District Attorney Have to File Charges?

How Long Does the District Attorney Have to File Charges?

The Waiting Game

The criminal justice system in California is organized into different stages. The first stage starts with an arrest followed by the police submitting a report to the office of the district attorney. Once the district attorney’s office is in receipt of a report or complaint, he or she can either choose to file charges or to not. The DA has a lot of discretion when deciding to file charges. He or she will evaluate the report against you and the evidence that may already exist. Contrary to popular belief, a citizen cannot “press charges” against someone. He or she can only file a police report, and that report is then handed off to the DA. The DA decides whether or not to file charges against you, not the person who files the report. That being said, the DA has a very important role in the criminal justice system. Not all reports will result in charges being filed. If the police have not gathered sufficient evidence to file charges, the DA may reject the case. Because the DA has such a significant role, he or she must act under specific regulations set forth by the California criminal justice system. One of these requirements is to file charges in a timely manner. This time limit protects the defendant’s right to a speedy trial protected under the sixth amendment.

Before charges are officially filed, during the pre-filing stage, the prosecutor must decide whether or not to file charges or require further investigation into the incident. A DA does not have unlimited time in which to decide. The specific amount of time he or she has in which to decide will depend on the allegations and how the crime would be charged (i.e. as a misdemeanor or a felony). Typically, the DA’s office has one year from the date of the arrest in which to file charges if the crime will be filed as a misdemeanor. Felonies are a little different. Some felony charges must be filed within three years from the date of the arrest or the discovery of the crime, but certain felonies have extended statutes of limitations, which prolong the amount of time the DA has to file charges. Every case is different so consult with an attorney about your specific charge.

It is important to note that if the defendant is in custody, the DA’s office must decide to file charges within 48 hours. If there is insufficient evidence to file charges, the defendant must be released. The specific process of filing charges is through a criminal complaint. Once a complaint is filed by the DA’s office, the criminal prosecution process proceeds.

If you are facing criminal allegations, you should speak with an experienced California criminal defense attorney immediately. Don’t wait for the DA to file charges to take action. A skilled attorney may be able to contact the DA during the pre-filing stage to discuss your case. An attorney may be able to do one of a few things. He or she may:

  • Convince the DA that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute you, thus negating the need to file charges
  • Get the DA to file different charges that may be lesser or more in your favor
  • Get access to the facts the DA has in possession (if charges end up being filed, this information could help you win your case)

It is important to understand many crimes never make it to the prosecution stage. If a police officer cannot gather enough information or evidence the DA’s office may never be notified. Even of the criminal incidences that are brought to the DA’s attention, not all result in charges being filed. The DA can choose to reject the case. Even when charges are filed, not all cases will result in a conviction. When you are facing criminal allegations, however, it can be hard to keep all these facts in mind. It can feel like you are up against a lot, even if there is a chance charges will never be filed. This is why it is so important to speak with an attorney as soon as you can. An attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and advise you on how your case might progress. He or she may also be able to contact the DA’s office to discuss your case before charges are filed. In most cases, criminal charges will be filed promptly once the DA’s office is in receipt of a report. If the DA’s office files charges after the time limit has passed, an attorney can address this issue in court. This could sway the outcome of your case if there was no good reason to delay the filing of charges.

If you are facing criminal charges in the Tulare, Fresno or Kings County area, call experienced criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can take swift action in your case to ensure your rights are protected. Attorney Martens has over ten years of criminal defense experience and will fight hard for your rights. Contact our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at MartensLaw@gmail.com to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.

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