Criminal proceedings take place in a series of stages. Usually, the police are responding to a citizen’s complaint that a crime has been committed. Sometimes, the police observe suspicious activity. Once they are called, or see something suspicious, the police investigate, take statements from witnesses, and prepare a report on their findings. At times, they will arrest people during the course of their investigation. At other times, they will complete their report and submit it to the prosecutor’s office for evaluation, and a prosecutor will decide whether charges should be filed against any suspects named in the police report.
The exact procedure for how charges are filed varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions give the police greater discretion in charging defendants with specific crimes, while others place more power with the prosecutor’s office. After being stopped by the police, a person may be ticketed for a “civil infraction,” may be ticketed or arrested for a “misdemeanor,” or may be arrested for a “felony.”
While it is common to speak in terms of being “charged by the police,” in many states this is not entirely accurate. The exact procedure for how charges are filed varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and, although the police may arrest a person and may recommend a specific charge, in many jurisdictions criminal charges is chosen solely by the prosecutor’s office.