The charging decision is the most important single decision the prosecutor makes in any case. Whether and what charges to file are decisions made by the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, but what the victim and the victim’s family thinks and wants are important. To make the decision of whether or not to charge a person with a felony crime, the office must answer three basic questions.
1. If all the information we have is accurate, is the person’s behavior a crime?
Not all obnoxious acts are crimes. Each crime is defined exactly; each part of that definition is called an “element”. All of the elements have to be present for the behavior to be a crime. Otherwise, it might just be obnoxious behavior.
2. If it is a crime, is there a good chance we could prove it in a court of law?
The deputy prosecutor must consider what evidence can be brought into court to prove that a particular crime was committed. Before a charge can be filed, the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney must be able to answer “yes” to the question, “Could a jury see and think about all of the evidence on both sides and convict the defendant of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt?”
3. What “other stuff” must be considered?
Prosecutors ask many questions before they decide whether or not to file charges, even if the first two questions can be answered “yes”. What results does the victim want? Can the victim and the family help by, for example, going over the details of the crime with the deputy prosecutor before a trial? Will the stress of waiting, anticipating, participating in interviews and, perhaps, testifying, bother the victim and family? If we have a choice, how many charges should be filed, and how serious should they be?