An Author Needs to Know
About the Police and the Law
Who decides what the charges are going to be?
Can a police officer charge a person with a crime? No. The police arrest and investigate. They may identify the crime they believe a person has committed, but that may not be the actual charge that is ultimately filed. A prosecutor, sometimes known as a state attorney or district attorney, begins the process of bringing the charges against a person, and then either a judge or a jury will decide if said person is guilty or not. Notice I didn’t say guilty or innocent. A person is always presumed to be innocent right up to the moment they are found guilty.
There is only one state attorney (or district attorney) in each county. All other attorneys working under him or her are called assistant district attorneys or assistant state attorneys. Each ADA or ASA can be responsible for up to 150 cases at any given time. The big guy, the DA or SA, generally only handles high profile cases, and he or she assigns the cases to the ADAs or ASAs. They tend to work in departments; homicide, sexual assault, etc. In Fort Lauderdale there is even a Not Me department to handle cases where the accused is claiming the police arrested the wrong person, such as a younger brother vs the older brother.
The charging document that the prosecutor produces is called an indictment. Sometimes it’s called a Prosecutor’s Information. That document is not proof that the subject committed the crime; it is only an allegation that will start the judicial process rolling.
In most states the prosecutor’s office, or district attorney’s office, will make the decision on what charge or charges will be brought against the subject. Some states have a grand jury that decides those issues.
Every crime must be codified, that is, be a written law. Criminal statues, laws, are created by legislature, not by judges or prosecutors, and the elements the prosecutor must prove are clearly established and listed in each statute. They state must prove each and every one of the elements of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt for the person to be found guilty. If they can only prove two out of three elements … they lose the case.