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What Does It Mean to Press Charges?

When pressing charges, a victim must give the police detailed information about a crime.
When charges are pressed, the accused person may have to go to trial.
If someone decides to press charges, the person they are accusing may be arrested.
Charges may be pressed by the parent of a teen who has been victimized at school.
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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2014
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The phrase "to press charges" means that a victim of a criminal action reports that action to the police, filing a police report so the district attorney or local prosecutor can then prosecute a case. Generally, this causes criminal charges to be brought by the prosecutor against an accused person. Once those criminal charges are filed, the accused may be arrested and will have to either arrange a plea bargain with the prosecutor or will have to stand trial for the crime and potentially face jail time or other penalties.

Pressing charges is different than suing in civil court. When a person decides to take this action, he will not benefit monetarily as a result of the outcome of the case. Instead, the case will essentially be out of his hands and handled by a prosecutor; he may be called upon to testify at a trial or to provide evidence to support the charges, but the onus is ultimately on the prosecutor to create a theory of the case, to collect evidence and to try the case. In a civil suit, on the other hand, the plaintiff sues and must prove that the defendant injured him either negligently or on purpose; the plaintiff then recovers monetary damages if he can prove these elements.

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If a person decides to press charges, he must report the event that occurred in as much detail as possible. The prosecutor will then review the information provided and determine whether to prosecute or not. Not every situation leads to an arrest or trial. Sometimes, the prosecutor will decide there is insufficient evidence to arrest the accused and take him to trial; other times, the prosecutor will determine the behavior of the accused did not meet all the elements of the crime and therefore no criminal sanctions are appropriate.

At times, a prosecutor may also try a case even if the victim decides not to press charges. Because a law has been broken, the accused defendant's actions are not just a crime against the victim, but also against the state and its laws. As such, a prosecutor doesn't necessarily need a victim to cooperate, and he can subpoena or compel a victim to testify to prove his case if necessary. This may occur in domestic violence cases where a victim may be unlikely to wish to prosecute his or her her significant other, especially if he or she stays in the abusive relationship.

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Discuss this Article

anon357400
Post 14

I was sexually abused a few months ago and I called the sheriff's office. They arrested the man, but now all the charges are removed from his record without my consent! Is that legal?

anon352129
Post 13

The root cause of the world's problems are succinctly captured on this page. Any society that can restore a victim's right to press or drop charges independent of state officials will lead the restoration of justice.

amypollick
Post 12

@anon349726: Well, if you lie on the stand for him, that's called perjury, or lying under oath. It's a felony charge and if you're caught and convicted, that's prison time for you.

You are absolutely right that this guy needs to face what he has done. If he's facing such a stiff sentence for this, he must have a string of domestic violence cases a mile long. Do you really want to ruin your own life by committing perjury, knowing he *will* do this again? Sure, he's sorry. Most abusers are sorry after they beat someone half to death. But his history has proved that, barring a major change in his mentality, he will abuse again. It might be you, or it might be someone else, but he will do it again! It's about time he faced the music, in my opinion.

And here's one more thought: how much does he *really* care about you that he would rather you run the personal risk of being caught lying under oath, than take his medicine? Staying out of jail is obviously more important to him than protecting you from committing a crime.

anon349726
Post 11

Mine is an assault. I was slammed in a door. I do have a slick mouth. But anyway, I haven't pressed charges on him. It looks like he has been prosecuted for violence before. Some people told me how he had abused them, and came back and apologized.

So why am I going against him and dealing with the DA? He has begged to me lie on stand for him, to do whatever it takes to get him free. I do love him, but I think he must at some point get that hitting is not the answer. Am I right or wrong? He could get two years to life for having a past history of domestic assault.

anon341215
Post 10

Can I press charges and file a civil suit on an off duty officer for pulling his weapon and firing "warning shots" in our direction? He was 4 wheeling out in a farmer's field and I went to run him off and he pulled his gun.

I filed a report but the cops down played the situation and I am guessing no charges will be filed. They left this guy free to stand at the top of my road and harass us by flashing his lights and failing his arms around,. I would have been arrested if this same situation was reversed.

amypollick
Post 9

@TiffanyN1025: What you would need to do is call the police department in your town and tell them the guy you think stole your husband's things was arrested in a nearby town. Try to speak with the officer who took your report -- he or she probably gave you a card. Ask the officer if they can look into it. If they have probable cause, then they can get a warrant and arrest him.

If it's in the same county, the District Attorney could well combine all the charges into one case. If it's in different counties, the guy would have to have two trials -- one in each county where he committed the crimes.

TiffanyN1025
Post 8

If someone commits a crime against you and gets away with it, can you press charges when they are arrested for committing the same crime against someone else? For example, my husband, my son and I were pulled over a few months ago by someone impersonating a police officer.

The guy pulled a gun on us, said he was taking us to jail and took a lot of my husband's work equipment. When he let us go, we called the police to report it. They put out an APB on the car, but since we didn't have a name or license plate number, there wasn't much they could do.

On Saturday, he was arrested in a different town close by for committing the same crime against someone else. Can we go back and file charges against him so that it adds on to the time he serves and he pays for the trauma he caused to my family?

anon293470
Post 6

There has to be an initial showing of physical injury, or breach of the peace at whatever level. If one or the other is not present, then there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.

If we could just run around saying we want to prosecute so and so, how could anybody establish any justice? Plus there would be a lot of justifiable lawsuits against D.A.s, that's for sure.

anon288350
Post 5

If my car was stolen and i know who it is, can they pay for the car that was taken from me, and can I get money for another car?

Azuza
Post 4

@JessicaLynn - This is very true. I had a friend of mine press charges for theft against her son in the heat of the moment. Her son did commit the crime, but later she decided she wanted to handle it within the family. However, the state decided to proceed with the theft charges! Her son actually spent some time in jail and it was just overall a big mess for the family.

JessicaLynn
Post 3

@EdRick - Also keep in mine that, like the article stated, once you file the police report pressing charges for assault it's basically out of your hands. So if you file the report and the state decides go go ahead and prosecute the case your son won't have the option to change his mind.

SailorJerry
Post 2

@EdRick - All you have to do is call the police and they'll walk you through how to press charges from there. (It will probably start with filing a report.) Unless you need an ambulance (which you don't, since you're on your computer!), don't call 911. You can look up the police non-emergency number in the telephone book.

Don't be stunned if they don't decide to prosecute, especially if this happened a while ago. But even if they just question the other boy, that might put the fear of God into him, as my grandfather used to say.

EdRick
Post 1

So what do you do if you want to, for instance, press charges for assault? My son was in an altercation with an older boy (over 18, so actually an adult) at a soccer game. The boy pushed him and spit in his face. I think the little punk needs to learn that he can't just do stuff like that, especially now that he's an adult.

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