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Criminal charges

Criminal charges are formal accusations of criminal conduct made by a governmental authority against a person or entity. Criminal charges are usually filed or initiated by a city, county, state, or the federal government, acting through a public prosecutor—also known as a municipal prosecutor, county attorney, district attorney, state attorney general, or United States Attorney (for federal crimes). Criminal charges range from low-level misdemeanors such as traffic tickets to first degree felonies such as capital murder.

The charging document in which the specific crime(s) alleged to have been committed are specified may be referred to as (1) a complaint; (2) an information; (3) an indictment; (4) a citation; or (5) a traffic ticket.

In Texas, criminal charges are formal allegations made by a government authority accusing an individual or entity of engaging in illegal activity. These charges can be initiated by various levels of government, including city, county, state, or federal authorities, and are prosecuted by officials such as municipal prosecutors, county attorneys, district attorneys, the state attorney general, or United States Attorneys for federal offenses. The severity of charges in Texas ranges from minor misdemeanors, like traffic violations, to serious felonies, including capital murder which can carry the death penalty. The specific allegations are detailed in charging documents, which may be called a complaint, information, indictment, citation, or traffic ticket, depending on the nature of the crime and the stage of the criminal process. A complaint or information typically precedes a misdemeanor charge, while an indictment is required for felony charges and is issued by a grand jury. Citations and traffic tickets are used for minor infractions and violations.


Texas Statutes & Rules

Federal Statutes & Rules

Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 3: The Complaint
Rule 3 pertains to the initiation of criminal proceedings through a complaint.

A complaint is a written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged. It must be made under oath before a magistrate judge or, if none is reasonably available, before a state or local judicial officer. The complaint is the preliminary charging document in federal criminal cases that initiates the process and must establish probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant committed it. This is often used for the arrest and prosecution of individuals for federal crimes.

Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 7: The Indictment and the Information
Rule 7 covers the formal charging documents known as an indictment and an information, which are used to bring a defendant to trial for felonies and some misdemeanors in federal court.

An indictment is a formal charge made by a grand jury asserting that a person has committed a crime. An information is a formal accusation of a crime made by a prosecutor without a grand jury indictment. Both documents must provide a plain, concise, and definite written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged and must be signed by an attorney for the government. The rule also specifies that the court may permit an information to be amended at any time before the verdict or finding if no additional or different offense is charged and if substantial rights of the defendant are not prejudiced.

Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 4: Arrest Warrant or Summons on a Complaint
Rule 4 outlines the procedures for issuing an arrest warrant or summons based on a complaint.

If it appears from the complaint, or from an affidavit or affidavits filed with the complaint, that there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and that the defendant has committed it, the judge must issue an arrest warrant to an officer authorized to execute it. Alternatively, the judge may issue a summons instead of an arrest warrant to a person authorized to serve it. A warrant must contain the defendant's name or, if it is unknown, a name or description by which the defendant can be identified with reasonable certainty.

Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 9: Warrant or Summons on an Indictment or Information
Rule 9 governs the issuance of warrants or summonses after an indictment or information has been filed.

Upon the request of an attorney for the government, the court must issue a summons to a defendant named in an indictment or information. If it appears by affidavit or otherwise that the defendant will not appear in response to a summons, a warrant may be issued. The warrant and summons must contain the same information as required for a warrant or summons on a complaint and must be executed and returned in the same manner.

18 U.S.C. § 3551 et seq.: Sentencing
This section of the United States Code outlines the federal sentencing guidelines, which are relevant after a defendant has been charged and convicted of a federal crime.

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 established the federal sentencing guidelines, which provide a framework for sentencing individuals convicted of federal crimes. The guidelines aim to ensure consistent and fair sentencing practices across federal courts. They take into account the severity of the offense, the defendant's criminal history, and other factors. Sentences may include imprisonment, fines, probation, or restitution. The guidelines are advisory, and judges may impose sentences outside the guidelines based on the circumstances of the case.

28 U.S.C. § 531 et seq.: United States Attorneys
This section of the United States Code establishes the role of United States Attorneys, who are responsible for prosecuting federal criminal charges.

United States Attorneys are appointed by the President and are responsible for representing the federal government in United States district courts and courts of appeals. They have the authority to prosecute criminal cases brought by the federal government, initiate and respond to appeals from those cases, and represent the United States in civil litigation. The statute outlines the administrative structure of the United States Attorneys' offices and their duties, which include prosecuting a wide range of federal criminal offenses.

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