Most, but not all, criminal prosecutions begin with an arrest by a law enforcement officer. This can be a county deputy, a city police officer, the highway patrol, or other state, local or federal law enforcement officials. An arrest can be the result of the officer’s personal observations, such as in a DUI case, or as a result of a police follow-up to a 911 call. Sometimes, an arrest is the result of an ongoing investigation (for example, a situation involving a bad check or fraudulent use of a credit card). Most of the time, however, the issue of whether or not to make an arrest is an officer’s personal decision.
In order to make a lawful arrest, a police officer is supposed to have “probable cause” to believe that the person arrested has committed a crime. This does not mean that the person arrested is guilty, but merely that the officer, at that moment in time, has made a decision that he or she believes an offense has been committed, and that the person being arrested is the person who committed it. There may be other instances when the state attorney’s office directly files a charge and causes an arrest warrant to be issued. Once again, this does not mean that the accused person is guilty; it simply means a prosecutor has made a decision to go forward with the prosecution.
The formal charge filed by the prosecutor is called an “Information”. The “Information” is the formal charging document signed by the prosecutor. It is on this formal charge that your prosecution goes forward. There are some rare instances, such as in a first-degree murder case, where the formal accusation takes the form of what is known as a grand jury indictment.
When a person is arrested, and prior to being transported to jail, he or she in most instances is searched. Sometimes this search can lead to the discovery of additional evidence and additional charges. For example, if drugs are found in a person’s pocket when they are arrested, or if a person is arrested in a vehicle or car and the search of the vehicle discloses additional evidence, it may give rise to additional charges. Often there are valid legal defenses arising from the circumstances surrounding the arrest or the search and seizure of your person or vehicle.
Most people are unaware of the law with respect to search and seizure. A competent attorney, after investigating the facts, may be able to challenge the evidence seized at the time of the arrest. Just because evidence is discovered, or an incriminating statement is made, it does not automatically mean that this evidence is admissible in a court of law. The law of search and seizure is complex. Experienced, competent counsel may find technical flaws or legal technicalities in the state’s case that can in some instances result in the evidence being suppressed and excluded from use in court. Before making any decision to plead guilty, a person should thoroughly and privately discuss the unique, factual circumstances of his or her case with competent defense counsel. Never plead guilty without a face to face meeting with an attorney.