Filing a Criminal Complaint

In most cases a criminal charge will be filed by a law enforcement officer. Any time a law enforcement officer witnesses a criminal act, the officer may either arrest the individual committing the act or issue a citation to the offender to appear in court. In the case of most misdemeanors, if the officer does not witness the crime, he/she will contact the County Attorney to file a criminal complaint. The complaint is a sworn statement setting forth the name of the individual accused of committing the crime as well a general statement of the facts supporting the charge. Once the complaint is signed it will be presented to a judge who will then issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest or issue a summons directing the defendant to appear in court at a specified date and time. In the case of a felony, the officer may make an arrest even if he/she does not witness the crime if there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. If the officer does not make an arrest the complaint process is followed as in the case of misdemeanors.

Criminal complaints by non-law enforcement individuals are rarely taken. Victims of crime should immediately report the crime to law enforcement. Law enforcement officers are trained to conduct criminal investigations. When a crime is reported to a law enforcement agency, it is that agency’s duty to investigate the crime. Crime victims should provide the officer with as much information as possible to identify the offender. Victims should also provide the name and address of all witnesses to the crime. If possible, take your witnesses with you when you meet with the officer so that a witness statement may be taken. If the officer refers potential crime victims to this office and does not file the criminal complaint on behalf of the victim, you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire detailing the alleged crime. You will also be required to provide this office with a copy of the police investigative report prepared by the officer. If the alleged crime is a felony the criminal complaint must be filed by a law enforcement officer.

After a misdemeanor warrant, summons or citation has issued the defendant will appear in Pendleton District Court. The initial appearance is called and arraignment. At the arraignment the defendant will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If a guilty plea is entered the judge will immediately impose a sentence. Typically defendants will enter a not guilty plea at arraignment. That is often done because they need time to consult with an attorney. If the plea is “not guilty” the case is set for a pretrial conference. The pretrial conference is used to allow the defense and our office an opportunity to resolve the case without going to trial. If the case is not resolved at pretrial the case will be set for trial in front of either a judge or a jury. Victims are not required to appear in court until they are subpoenaed for the trial.

In the case of a felony, the District Court has limited jurisdiction. At arraignment the defendant cannot plead guilty. A District Judge cannot impose a sentence of more than twelve months in a county jail. The minimum sentence for a felony is one year in a state penitentiary with the maximum sentence being either life in prison or a death penalty. At the District Court arraignment the matter is typically set for a preliminary hearing. At that hearing the County Attorney will present evidence to establish that there is probable cause to believe the defendant committed a felony offense. If the judge finds there is probable cause the case is referred to the Pendleton Circuit Court and proceedings by the grand jury. Once the grand jury issues a circuit court indictment the County Attorney no longer has jurisdiction over the case. After indictment the Commonwealth’s Attorney assumes jurisdiction and will prosecute the case.

If the offender is a juvenile, under the age of eighteen, you will be referred to the Court Designated Worker (CDW). Under Kentucky law juvenile petitions are to be filed with the CDW, not the County Attorney. After processing by the CDW the case will be referred to the County Attorney for review. In some cases the CDW will recommend that the matter be referred to juvenile diversion. If diversion is not appropriate the matter will be referred to court for hearing. More information regarding juvenile court can be found on this web site.