How to Find Out if Criminal Charges Are Filed: Know These 5 Rights

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Criminal Records | September 14, 2022

Courthouse with judge above it pointing his gavel at a person in the middle who is wondering how to find out if criminal charges are filed and looking at a criminal records document on the right.

Find Out If Criminal Charges Are Filed
Search criminal records to find out if criminal charges are filed against you and if a case is being built against you.

If you are wondering how to find out if criminal charges are filed, you probably have a suspicion that you are being investigated for a crime. When this happens, it can cause stress and uncertainty for all those involved. The first thing you should know is that a police investigation is not the same thing as criminal charges.

Investigations are required before charges are made to confirm that there is enough evidence to support them. Often, a police investigation concludes without any criminal charges being filed.

If this isn’t the case and criminal charges are filed, you have 5 rights in relation to how an arrest can be handled. The best thing that you can do if you believe you are facing criminal charges is to deal with them right away. Avoiding any charges can result in severe consequences and, potentially, additional punishment.

The following guide outlines your five rights, and shows exactly how to find out if criminal charges are filed.

What Are Criminal Charges?

When learning how to find out if criminal charges are filed, it is important to understand what criminal charges are. Criminal charges are typically filed after the police have conducted a thorough investigation into a crime and obtained evidence to confirm it happened, and who they believe is responsible. Once criminal charges are filed against a defendant, a warrant typically follows. Before moving forward, it is important to note that only local criminal charges will show up on a level 1 check (to answer the very common question of what does level 1 mean on background check).

When a warrant is issued for someone’s arrest, it means that they can be arrested at any time by an authorized officer of the law. Criminal charges can be filed for anything that is considered a crime by law. There are three different levels of criminal charges:

  1. Infraction: An infraction is the lowest type of criminal charge. The penalties for an infraction usually come in some form of a fine or probation period. A defendant cannot be arrested or receive jail time for an infraction charge.
  2. Misdemeanor: A misdemeanor charge is less serious than a felony but more serious than a felony. Most misdemeanor charges are punishable by 30 days to a year of jail time. This is dependent on the class of misdemeanor that was committed. There are three different classes of misdemeanors: Class A, Class B, and Class C. A Class A charge is the most severe, whereas a Class C charge is the least severe. How long does a misdemeanor stay on your record? The answer is usually permanently, but this depends on a variety of different factors.
  3. Felony: A felony charge is the most severe of the three types. Felony charges usually result in punishments of 1+ years in jail or prison, depending on the severity of the crime. The types of criminal charges that result in felonies depend on the state in which the defendant is being prosecuted, but there are a number of federal felonies outlined by federal law.

If a criminal charge has been filed against you, it is important to understand what type of charge it may be. Understanding whether you are facing a misdemeanor or a felony will have an impact on the type of punishment that you will potentially experience and can make a difference in the defense process.

Will You Be Notified if Criminal Charges Are Brought Against You?

When police officers begin their investigation, they don’t need to notify you or anyone else involved. This is done to make sure that the investigation yields unbiased results and that the police can collect all necessary information without interference. But will you be notified when the official criminal charges are filed? The answer is no.

In most cases, you won’t be notified if a criminal charge is brought against you. There is no legal reason for a police officer or court to notify a defendant of the change in the investigation’s status. This is usually done to prevent the accused from fleeing when they learn about charges. Unfortunately, this can lead to a surprise in the form of an arrest.

California courts Judicial Branch website screenshot used for how to find out if criminal charges are filed.

How to Check if You Have Been Charged with a Crime

If you’re wondering, “how do I know if I’ve been charged with a crime,” there is a way to tell. You can either check with local law enforcement on your own to see if charges filed are available, or hire an attorney.3 There are both positive and negative sides to each option.

While you can use a free service (like in the case of free criminal background check Washington state), doing so can leave you vulnerable to liability which may ultimately cause you significantly more harm than good. For example, imagine using a free service to check your criminal record and falsely trusting the report, only to be pulled over and arrested for a warrant you didn’t know about, costing thousands in legal and court fees (not to mention jail time that could have been avoided).

When contacting local law enforcement to get information on criminal charges, there is a chance that they will not release any information to you. Some states do not release information on pending charges until they have been acted upon. This means that you won’t be able to see the charge until you have been arrested.2 If charges are disclosed, there is a chance that you will be arrested right away.

The alternative to checking with law enforcement on your own involves hiring a defense attorney. When becoming a client of an attorney, you minimize the risks that come with reaching out to law enforcement. Your attorney will be able to learn more about your criminal records in a way that won’t necessarily result in a surprise arrest. Attorneys sometimes have access to more information than typical citizens do. For instance, they can help with very specific problems like debt to the IRS for those wondering do tax liens show up on background checks (just one of countless examples of where an attorney can be very helpful).

This means that they are more likely to track down accurate criminal charge information. Attorneys are well versed in criminal defense law, which will give you the upper hand. With the many positives, there is also a downside to hiring a defense attorney. Most attorneys can get expensive, which means they are only an option for those who can pay for them.

Get a Copy of Your Criminal Conviction Records

The process for getting access to your criminal records will vary based on where you are searching. Different crimes are housed on different records. For example, each state will keep a record of any crime committed within their borders. A criminal record requested from one state will not include any crimes from another state or the federal government. Likewise, the federal government records criminal records that are federal only. The best way to find criminal records that are complete involves requesting records from the federal government, state and local police.4

For a federal record request from the FBI, you will be required to submit fingerprints to confirm your identity in addition to filing an application.

While a copy of your criminal records can be helpful for previous crimes, it may not show any current criminal charges that are pending. Most pending criminal charges will only show on a record as pending if a warrant has been issued and acted upon. This means that a criminal record will only reveal the pending criminal charge if you have been arrested for it.

Another indication that can help you check to see if you’ve been charged involves being notified by mail, which orders you to appear in person before a local court or magistrate.

The arraignment is the initial court appearance and usually is where you’ll find out about any charges that have been filed. You’ll also have to enter a plea, guilty or not guilty, and the authority can issue bail conditions as well.

If you must appear before a magistrate, this happens before actual charges. Typically they are referred to as “show” cause. This is because the police didn’t see the crime. So, they file a form with the magistrate concerning the evidence, so that they can determine if there’s enough to make charges.

If you’ve received a letter ordering your appearance at either event, it can help to have a criminal attorney present. Although the United States allows you to defend yourself, there are many legal pitfalls. Moreover, most judges started their careers as lawyers, and many people argue that they are less favorable to individuals who dispense with that service.

State of Utah website screenshot with yellow arrow pointing to resource.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Copy of Crimes You’ve Committed in Utah?

In the state of Utah, you can request a copy of your criminal record criminal charge for no cost. Thanks to the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, all criminal public records are available at no charge. This means that you can easily access a copy of your record by submitting a request to the government. The Act has also put into place a timeline that requires a response from the organization that records criminal conviction records within 10 business days of the initial request. The request can be sent via mail, and must include the items that are being requested.1

What Rights Do You Have When Arrested for Criminal Charges?

If you are in the process of learning how to find out if criminal charges are filed, you should know your rights. Once a criminal charge has been issued, a warrant will go out for your arrest. There is a good chance that you won’t know about the warrant until you are arrested, especially if you aren’t expecting it. If you are approached by a police officer regarding a criminal charge, you have 5 important rights.

Graphic showing the rights you have when you're arrested and how to find out if criminal charges are filed before someone gets arrested, outlining the right to refuse to go with police without a warrant, the right to know why police are arresting you, the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney and the right to a trial by jury, depending on the type of criminal charges filed, and even if someone has pressed charges against you.

  1. You don’t have to go with an officer unless you are under arrest.

If you are in a situation where a police officer is requesting to take you back to the police station, you have the right to ask if you’re being placed under arrest. You are only required to go with the officer if they arrest you. If they only want to take you back for questioning, you have the right to say no.

  1. You have the right to know why you’re being arrested.

If the officer lets you know that you are being arrested, you have the right to ask why. Any information about an active warrant should be given to you. If there isn’t an active warrant, the police officer needs to explain if they have “probable cause” to arrest you. Probable cause means that the officer saw or experienced something that would give them reason to place you under arrest. If the police officer is placing you under arrest, you should go with them regardless of whether you think the reason is valid. Resisting arrest or being combative can only result in more charges being placed against you.

  1. You have the right to remain silent.

If you are arrested for a crime, you have the right to remain silent to avoid saying anything that could incriminate you. This means that you don’t have to talk to police or answer any questions if you don’t want to. You should know that this right doesn’t apply to sharing your name or other identifying information with a police officer.

  1. You have the right to an attorney.

If you are arrested and taken to a police station, you are allowed to ask for an attorney. Once you ask for an attorney, the officers are required by law to stop questioning you. The booking process may continue even if you ask for a lawyer, and officers will still be allowed to take your photograph and fingerprints. If you ask for a lawyer but can’t afford to hire one for yourself, the judge will provide a court appointed attorney to you.

  1. You have the right to a trial by a jury.

If the charges cannot be settled and you learn you must go to trial, you have a right to a trial in front of a jury. This means that your case will be heard by people from the community rather than a single judge. The jury will make the decision regarding your guilt. You will also have the right to waive a jury trial. In this case, your trial will be held in front of a judge only. Most attorneys will be able to help you decide which option is the best fit for your situation.

What Happens if Your Rights are Violated?

If you have been arrested for a pending criminal charge, it is important to confirm that all of your 5 rights haven’t been violated. If a violation has occurred, legal action can be taken. The type of action will depend on which right was violated and how it was violated.

If information is obtained from you after you indicate your desire to remain silent, all of that information can be thrown out of evidence. This can also happen if a police officer continues to question you after you have requested the help of an attorney. Further legal action can be taken if it is found that you were arrested without reasonable cause or a valid warrant. If you believe that you have had one of your 5 rights violated, you should contact a criminal defense attorney right away to discuss your options and methods for filing a complaint.

Maine Criminal History Record website screenshot with arrow pointing to search options for how to find out if criminal charges are filed.

What Happens After Criminal Charges Are Filed Against You?

After public records criminal charges have been filed against you, the course of action will depend on how you handle the situation. In some cases, the next step following charges being filed includes a warrant going out for your arrest. Not all criminal charges result in a warrant being issued. If the charge in question is an infraction or a misdemeanor, there is a large chance that the matter will be settled without any type of arrest. For more serious misdemeanor charges and felonies, a warrant is more typical.

Once the warrant is put out, law enforcement can arrest you at any time. After being arrested, you will be taken to court for arraignment. After being arraigned, you may have the option to post bail. By posting bail, you can be released from jail on your own accord with the understanding that you’ll need to return for any court hearings.

If an investigation didn’t take place prior to your arrest, there is a chance that the prosecuting office won’t pursue charges against you. Many prosecuting attorneys will review reports and evidence provided by the police before choosing whether or not to move forward with charges. If you were arrested after an investigation and a warrant was issued, it is unlikely that the attorney will decide not to move forward with the case.

After charges are made official, you will be required to respond. Depending on the advice of your attorney, you may choose to go to trial or enter a plea deal. A plea deal typically removes the need for a trial and allows for the offender to plead guilty to the crime under certain conditions. The prosecutor on the case usually has a say in what type of conditions are approved for defendants following a plea, but many result in parole or probation.

If after trial you are convicted of the charge, you will have an opportunity to appeal the decision in appellate court. With the help of a criminal defense lawyer, a successful appeal can help reverse the charges. If an appeal is lost, you may end up with the charge on your criminal record. The only way to remove the individual charge involves expungement or sealing. Record expungement would remove the charge from your record completely, assuming that it fits the qualifications.

When Should You Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

If you find out that you have a pending criminal charge against you, it may be wise to hire an attorney well versed in criminal defense. An attorney can help you navigate any prosecution in a way that prevents a surprise arrest, or even additional charges. If you haven’t been able to see if you have a criminal charge open, you may also want to consider finding an attorney to represent you.

There are some states that will not release information about pending charges or warrants until they have been acted upon. This means that you won’t know about the charge until you are arrested for it. A defense attorney can ask about any charges on your behalf and begin the process of negotiating a solution. This saves you the stress and embarrassment of being arrested.

An attorney can also assist you if you have found that any of your rights have been violated by an arrest or illegal court proceeding. Most defense lawyers have an extensive knowledge of the rights afforded by a defendant. This means that they will be able to assist you in determining whether your rights were violated and how to go about seeking legal recourse.

Do You Have to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney Before Going to Court?

Hiring a private defense attorney can sometimes come with a hefty price tag. In fact, the average defense attorney can cost around $8,000.5 For some defendants, this just isn’t an option. The good news is that you are not required to hire a private defense attorney before going to court. As a part of the criminal justice system in the United States, you can be provided with a public defender for your court appearances.

Public defenders provide you the same service that would be expected from a private attorney without requiring you to pay a salary. This is done to ensure that those who cannot afford their own attorney will be provided with sufficient representation.

Before moving forward, you should know how to find out if you have a federal warrant depending on the conviction. Even if you decide to use a defense attorned specialized in criminal records, this will be a key first step.

What Are the Consequences of Being Convicted of a Criminal Charge?

The consequences of being convicted of a charge will be dependent upon the type of crime committed. Jail or prison sentences vary based on the severity of the crime. This means that if you are convicted of a felony, you should expect to spend more time in jail than if you were convicted of a misdemeanor. Aside from jail time or probation, there may also be concerns about how the charge will affect your life long term.

There are many acts and laws that have been passed to prevent anyone with a criminal record from struggling to find a job. Specifically, the “Ban the Box” act limits the type of criminal history that can be used against you by an employer. The type of crime that was committed will limit the types of jobs that can be had.

For example, anyone convicted of a sex crime against a child won’t be able to get a job around children. On the other hand, someone with the same crime conviction could not be eliminated from a job that doesn’t have any contact with children or other sensitive populations. There are also some states that follow the seven-year reporting rule as set out by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This act states that criminal history information can’t be used if it is more than 7 years old.

As time passes, there may be an option to have the criminal charge removed from your record through expungement or sealing. Both options typically require a set period of time to pass before you become eligible. If you are interested in learning more about expungement or sealing, you should check with your local state guidelines to determine when you would be eligible. You can also consult articles to learn how to remove a criminal record from a background check through expungement.

When learning how to find out if criminal charges are filed against you, you first need to understand what criminal charges are and your rights. 

If you think that there’s a possibility a pending criminal charge is active against you, the best thing to do is take some form of action and check to see if any of your rights were violated. When searching for information on a charge, you have the option of hiring an attorney or looking yourself.

However, taking immediate action and learning how to find out if criminal charges are filed can help you avoid unwanted stress and be prepared for what you’ll need to do.


1National Freedom of Information Coalition. N.d. Utah FOIA Laws. 23 Nov 2021. Web. <>

2The Law Offices of Gerald Noonan. 7 Jun 2021. How Can I Know if I’m Being Charged with a Crime? 23 Nov 2021. Web. <>

3Lewis & Dickstein. 16 June 2019. How Do I Find Out if Charges Were Filed Against Me? 23 Nov 2021. Web. <>

4J McDowell Law. n.d. How Can I Obtain a Copy of My Criminal Record? 23 Nov 2021. Web. <>

5Canterbury Law Group. N.d. How Much Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer Cost? 23 Nov 2021. Web. <>

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