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What’s the Difference Between a Criminal Complaint, Criminal Information, and a Criminal Indictment?

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Have You Been Indicted or Charged With a Crime in South Florida?

If you’ve been indicted or charged with a criminal offense in South Florida, or if that happens to you in the future, you are going to need the advice and services of a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney, and you will need to contact that attorney’s office as quickly as possible.

In the State of Florida, what is the difference between a criminal complaint, criminal information, and a criminal indictment? If you are indicted or otherwise charged with a crime in this state, what will a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer do on your behalf?

If you’ll continue to read this brief discussion of your rights and the criminal justice system in Florida, you will learn the answers that, now or in the future, you or someone you love may need.

What is a Criminal Complaint?

When someone wants to report a crime in Florida, that person must file a complaint with the police department or sheriff’s office in the city or county where the criminal act was allegedly committed. That local law enforcement agency will investigate the criminal complaint.

An investigation may find that no crime happened or that the complaint is about a civil rather than a criminal matter. If the police agency finds probable cause to believe that a crime in fact did occur, the case will be forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office.

Usually, the State Attorney’s Office will examine the case to determine if the evidence is sufficient to bring charges and move forward with a criminal prosecution. But in some cases, as explained below, the State Attorney’s Office may ask a grand jury to issue an indictment.

What is “a Criminal Information?”

In Florida, most criminal charges are filed without an indictment by a grand jury. Prosecutors in Florida generally use grand juries only for violent felony cases, and grand juries are required by the law in this state only for capital (that is, death penalty) cases.

In most instances, when the State Attorney’s Office reviews a case, that review determines if there is enough evidence to move forward with a criminal prosecution. If there is, the State Attorney’s Office will submit to the court a formal charging document called an “information.”

The information spells out the charge or charges against the defendant. At a preliminary hearing, the defendant’s lawyer may cross-examine witnesses and offer evidence on the defendant’s behalf. Preliminary hearings determine if the prosecution has demonstrated probable cause.

If You Are Charged With a Crime

Probable cause may be defined as reasonable grounds for believing that a defendant has perpetrated a crime. If you are charged with a criminal offense in South Florida, you will be brought to magistrate’s court for a preliminary hearing, where a prosecutor must prove only that there’s enough evidence – that there’s probable cause – to move forward with a criminal trial. To establish probable cause, there must be sufficient evidence or facts to lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime has occurred or is ongoing. The level of certainty required is greater than mere suspicion but less than beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard used in criminal trials.

If your criminal case is pending after you’ve been arrested and charged, you must act swiftly to protect yourself and your rights. Contact a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney – at once – who will fight aggressively on your behalf and cast doubt on the prosecution’s case against you.

How Does a Grand Jury Work?

You may be charged with a criminal offense in Florida by an information or by an indictment. Informations are issued by the State Attorney’s Office, but an indictment is issued only by a grand jury. Grand juries are entirely unlike trial juries. They are completely different things.

A trial jury’s job is to determine a defendant’s innocence or guilt, and at a criminal trial, the prosecutor’s task is to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The role of a grand jury, however, is only to determine if there’s “probable cause” to prosecute the defendant and proceed with a criminal trial.

If a Florida prosecutor is required to or chooses to seek an indictment, the case is presented to a grand jury. To win that indictment, the prosecutor may interrogate witnesses and present evidence to the grand jurors.

From fifteen to twenty-one individuals comprise a Florida grand jury. Unlike trial juries in this state, which must be unanimous, it takes only twelve grand jurors to issue a criminal indictment. Media coverage of grand juries isn’t allowed, and cases may not be discussed by jurors in public.

What Are Your Rights at Grand Jury Proceedings?

Essentially, a grand jury is a tool of the State Attorney’s Office, and there will be little that you can do – or that your Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer can do on your behalf – during a grand jury proceeding. For example, you don’t have a right to offer evidence to a grand jury.

Moreover, your defense attorney is not allowed to cross-examine those who testify to a grand jury. Florida’s grand juries are known for their secrecy, and a defendant could conceivably be indicted without even knowing that he or she is the subject of a grand jury investigation.

How Can You Choose the Right Defense Lawyer?

This cannot be stressed strongly enough: If you’re charged with a crime in the Fort Lauderdale area or anywhere in South Florida, you must be defended by an attorney who has handled similar cases successfully and knows how to bring your own criminal case to its best possible resolution.

The award-winning criminal defense team at George Reres Law will handle your defense with diligence, dedication, and determination. We will review the charge, examine the evidence, meet with the witnesses, and develop an appropriate, aggressive, effective strategy for your defense.

If you’re charged with a crime or under investigation for a crime, we will provide a free, in-depth evaluation of your case with no obligation. You will learn how the law applies to your own situation, and you will receive personalized advice about your rights and options as a defendant.

We know what it takes to get positive results for our clients. To learn more, or if you are charged with a crime anywhere in South Florida, now or in the future, reach out to George Reres Law by calling our Fort Lauderdale offices at 954-543-1186.

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