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A criminal charge is a formal accusation made by a governmental authority (usually the public prosecutor or the police) asserting that somebody has committed a crime. A charging document, which contains one or more criminal charges or counts, can take several forms, including:

The charging document is what generally starts a criminal case in court. But the procedure by which somebody is charged with a crime and what happens when somebody has been charged varies from country to country and even, within a country, from state to state.

Before a person is proven guilty, the charge must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.[1]



There can be multiple punishments due to certain criminal charges. Minor criminal charges such as misdemeanors, tickets, and infractions have less harsh punishments. The judge usually sentences the person accused of committing the charges right after the hearing. The punishments generally include fines, suspension, probation, a small amount of jail time, or alcohol and drug classes. If the criminal charges are considered more serious like a felony, then there is a more lengthy process for determining the punishment. Felonies include the most serious crimes such as murder and treason. In addition to the trial that decides innocence or guilt, there is a separate trial (after one is convicted) that determines the punishment(s) for the criminal charges committed.[2]

Rights when facing criminal chargesEdit

In the United States, people facing criminal charges in any situation are given rights by the Constitution.[3] These are the Miranda Rights and they are read to anyone facing criminal charges. These rights include things like the right to remain silent, habeas corpus, and the right to an attorney. It is important for someone facing criminal charges to know their rights so they can take the proper action using their rights. An officer is required to read the following rights before any questioning of a suspect: "You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer any questions, anything you do say may be used against you in the court of law, you have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future, if you cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish, and if you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney."[3]


Many people avoid criminal charges by staying out of the state where they committed the crime. A person facing state criminal charges is always prosecuted in the state where they committed the charges.[4] A person may be able to get away with minor violations like a ticket, but they will not be able to hide from something like a misdemeanor or a felony. There are about sixty criminal charges that are considered more serious that people face every day. These charges can range from less serious actions such as shoplifting or vandalism to more serious crimes such as murder.[5]


A person may not even know if he/she was charged. If he/she is really worried, he/she can contact an attorney to ascertain if he/she was charged with any crime(s). A police officer may also charge someone after they investigate the possible crime(s) he/she committed.[2][1][2][3][4][5][6]


  1. ^ a b "Beyond A Reasonable Doubt". Retrieved April 14, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c Larson, Aaron. "Criminal Charges". Law Offices of Aaron Larson. Retrieved April 18, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c "The Miranda Waring". 
  4. ^ a b "Criminal Procedure". Retrieved April 7, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Crimes A-Z". Retrieved April 14, 2011. 
  6. ^ "The American Bar Association". The Police & Your Rights. Retrieved April 7, 2011.