Understanding Arrest Warrants, Indictments, and Accusations

In today’s post, I discuss the difference between arrest warrants, indictments, and accusations. Most criminal cases in Georgia begin with police officers arresting an individual for a violation of the Georgia criminal code. Arrests can occur with or without an arrest warrant depending on the circumstances. If a police officer has probable cause to believe that a person has just committed a crime, he can arrest that person without getting a warrant first. “Probable cause” is the constitutional standard that separates legal arrests from illegal arrests. If there is no probable cause that a law was broken, there can be no legal arrest.

Being Arrested Is Not the Same as being Charged with a Crime

A legal arrest (supported by probable cause) is enough to keep a person in jail unless and until he posts bond. But just because a person may have been arrested for a crime, does not necessarily mean he will be charged. Once the prosecutor gets the case, he or she can either dismiss charges, add charges, or keep the charges identical to the arrest warrants.

There are two ways to be charged with a crime in Georgia: either through an indictment or accusation. An indictment is the most formal way of charging someone with a crime and is reserved for more serious felonies. To indict someone, prosecutors must present the facts before a grand jury (a group of 16-23 citizens) and have them determine if there is sufficient probable cause for the crime. Georgia statute permits the use of accusations for misdemeanors and some less-serious felony charges. With an accusation, only the prosecutor needs to determine if there is probable cause, a grand jury is not necessary. However, if a prosecutor does not believe there is sufficient evidence to prosecute you, he can request that the warrants against you be dismissed

Having Your Case Dismissed or Nol Prossed

The period between when you are arrested and when prosecutors are making the decision whether to accuse or indict the case is a crucial one. It is essential that during this period your criminal defense attorney negotiate on your behalf to see if the prosecutor will dismiss the warrant before you are formally charged. This is generally the quickest way to get rid of the case, and to have it eventually be off your record.

Yet even if prosecutors go forward and accuse or indict your case, the case can still be dismissed in what is known as a “nolle prosequi” or “nol pros.” Nol pros is just a fancy latin term for a dismissal of a case that occurs after an accusation or indictment has been filed. A nol pros is fairly common and can occur very early in the case all the way up to the eve of trial. It’s even possible for a prosector to nol pros charges during trial.

A nol pros usually occurs if there has been a successful motion to suppress, new evidence discovered, or some other event that negatively affects the prosecution’s case. A dismissal or nol pros is the best case scenario because it ends the case without having to go through the risk of trial. If you have any further questions about the criminal justice process in Georgia, contact us today so we can answer your questions and schedule a free consultation.

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