What Happens When Someone Presses Charges Against You? Do THIS

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Criminal Records | March 31, 2022

What happens when someone presses charges against you? Is there a way to find out how to look up charges on someone? Many people wonder about the legal process involved in having a complaint charged against them, but the short answer is that it depends on a number of factors.

The justice system is complex, and there’s no cut and dried answer to explain what will happen after a person files charges. However, there is one thing that anyone can do immediately.

Conduct a name-based background check and criminal history search on yourself to discover the exact nature of the charges pressed, why they were pressed, and whether or not a warrant has been issued.

This allows anyone to fully answer the question of “how do I know if I have been charged with a crime?” Without this detailed knowledge, you are very literally acting in the dark.

After searching for criminal records on yourself, you will be able to take the best course of action quickly and seek the correct type of legal help if needed. Ultimately, you will become proactive instead of reactive (like getting served with a warrant unexpectedly).

What Happens When Someone Presses Charges Against You for Theft?

Any time criminal charges are brought against an individual it can be a serious matter. Regardless of whether the charge will likely lead to a conviction, or if the charge has been brought against the wrong person in a case of mistaken identity, it can still be a serious situation that requires immediate attention and legal assistance.

Contrary to what is often shown in movies, private citizens or the victim of the alleged crime are not the ones who decide whether or not to press charges. This is solely up to the prosecutor involved, but the alleged victim does play a role in the process.

And, how long do police have to charge you with a crime?

To put it simply, the county or state prosecutor’s office will file criminal charges against an individual if they conclude that there is enough evidence of a crime to lead to a conviction. In many cases, this evidence does not exist without the cooperation of the victim, if the victim is unwilling to cooperate with the police and prosecutor, there is no hope of gaining a conviction.

Depending on the type of charges filed, the prosecution has a specific, limited amount of time to charge someone with a crime.

In these cases where a conviction is extremely unlikely due to lack of evidence, prosecutors will often decide that pursuing criminal charges is not worth the time and resources that it would require and will drop them before they proceed to court. The difference between dropped and dismissed charges is largely the timing. Dismissed charges generally occur after the court has become involved, but whether dismissed charges show up on a background check depends on the state and situation.

Run a Name Based Criminal Record Search in the Local Court System

The best thing to do when wondering, can you be charged with a crime without knowing, or when someone presses charges against you is to search the state or local court clerk’s office for the specifics.

Step 1: Find Out If Charges Were Pressed Against You

The first step in the process usually involves a police report or arrest record being viewed by the prosecutor. A police report will include facts about the case including the following:

  • Time of incident
  • Location of incident
  • Individuals involved in the incident
  • Witness information
  • Outline of events that occurred
What happens after someone presses charges against you in Wyoming is up to the judicial branch, screenshot.

As soon as someone has charges pressed against them, they can perform a background check and criminal history check at the local and state level to find out if a warrant has been filed for their arrest.

The easiest way to find out which charges have been filed is through the local court clerk.

The court clerk in the jurisdiction that the crime allegedly took place will have the court records regarding when the prosecutor filed the charges. Since the person that is named in the charges should be the one searching for them, there should be no issue with retrieving those records.

The process is slightly different in each state for how to find out if criminal charges are filed, but more information is available on the court clerk’s website, and in some cases a searchable database will be available.

Screenshot of Just One Look tool for Alabama.

The Just One Look platform in Alabama (and other states), allows users to see up to date criminal and civil court charges, including pending charges and case lookup features.

Many states use the Just one Look system, which allows users to find out if there are pending charges against them for free. However, for states that don’t use this platform, the state court clerk website should also provide the information.

A list of each state’s court clerk website is available below.

StateCourt Clerk Website
AlabamaAlabama Court Clerk
AlaskaAlaska Court Clerk
ArizonaArizona Court Clerk
ArkansasArkansas Court Clerk
CaliforniaCalifornia Court Clerk
ColoradoColorado Court Clerk
ConnecticutConnecticut Court Clerk
DelawareDelaware Court Clerk
FloridaFlorida Court Clerk
GeorgiaGeorgia Court Clerk
HawaiiHawaii Court Clerk
IdahoIdaho Court Clerk
IllinoisIllinois Court Clerk
IndianaIndiana Court Clerk
IowaIowa Court Clerk
KansasKansas Court Clerk
KentuckyKentucky Court Clerk
LouisianaLouisiana Court Clerk
MaineMaine Court Clerk
MarylandMaryland Court Clerk
MassachusettsMassachusetts Court Clerk
MichiganMichigan Court Clerk
MinnesotaMinnesota Court Clerk
MississippiMississippi Court Clerk
MissouriMissouri Court Clerk
MontanaMontana Court Clerk
NebraskaNebraska Court Clerk
NevadaNevada Court Clerk
New HampshireNew Hampshire Court Clerk
New JerseyNew Jersey Court Clerk
New MexicoNew Mexico Court Clerk
New YorkNew York Court Clerk
North CarolinaNorth Carolina Court Clerk
North DakotaNorth Dakota Court Clerk
OhioOhio Court Clerk
OklahomaOklahoma Court Clerk
OregonOregon Court Clerk
PennsylvaniaPennsylvania Court Clerk
Rhode IslandRhode Island Court Clerk
South CarolinaSouth Carolina Court Clerk
South DakotaSouth Dakota Court Clerk
TennesseeTennessee Court Clerk
TexasTexas Court Clerk
UtahUtah Court Clerk
VermontVermont Court Clerk
VirginiaVirginia Court Clerk
WashingtonWashington Court Clerk
West VirginiaWest Virginia Court Clerk
WisconsinWisconsin Court Clerk
WyomingWyoming Court Clerk
Washington D.C.Washington D.C. Court Clerk

To find out if criminal charges are filed, contact the local court clerk. Use the online database available, or visit the clerk in person to request the information.

To find county court clerk information:

  • Navigate to the official clerk’s office for the county where the charges were filed
  • Perform a name based search using an online criminal records portal to look up charges on someone

OR

  • Appear in person and make a request about the charges. This usually involves completing a form and paying a small fee.

Step 2: Arraignment Process

So, what happens when someone presses charges against you? If the charges are for felony theft, then an arrest warrant will be issued. For misdemeanors the individual will be contacted about an arraignment.

The next step is to appear in court. But, the method for the court appearance depends on a few different factors, mainly the exact nature of the crime and where it took place.

Theft laws vary widely across the country, but they all fall into either the category of misdemeanor or felony. Whether the person is being charged with misdemeanor theft charges or felony theft charges will determine if they are contacted via mail to appear in court (misdemeanor) or if a warrant is issued and the person is arrested by law enforcement (felony).

What constitutes a misdemeanor versus a felony depends on the state or county. For example, California theft laws can be found here. 

Screenshot of hte California criminal legislature digest.

State laws and proposed changes to the criminal code are posted online by each state, allowing users to see what type of charges can be filed against them.

This first court hearing is known as the arraignment. The outcome of the case will not be decided at this hearing. Instead, a judge will explain the charges filed against the individual and ask if they plead guilty or not guilty.

The arraignment in particular is a great example of why criminal defense lawyers are so important. An attorney will offer counsel and representation during this process and work with the accused to determine the next best steps. In some cases this may be to plead guilty, and in others it may be to plead not guilty.

Step 3: Release Conditions Are Set and Pre-Trial

Assuming the individual has pleaded not guilty, release conditions will then be set. This usually includes the bail amount.

After this, the pre-trial stage begins between the defendant and their attorney, as well as the prosecutor, which involves preparing to appear in court.

Step 4: Potential Plea Deals

The next step in the process is where things will vary on a case by case basis. During this stage the prosecutor and defense attorney will exchange evidence which allows the prosecutor to make a fair plea deal to the defendant.

Whether or not the plea deal is accepted is entirely up to the client, usually on the advice of their attorney. If the defendant chooses to accept a plea deal,  then the case essentially ends with the fulfillment of the plea deal. However, if no plea deal is met then a trial date will be set.

Step 5: Trial and Sentencing

If a criminal case makes it to trial, it can be weeks or months after the arraignment hearing took place. On the day of the trial, the prosecutor and the defense attorney will work together with a judge to select a jury.

With the jury selected, the case will begin with opening statements, followed by presenting evidence and witnesses and then closing statements. After closing statements the jury will deliberate and decide if the defendant is guilty or not.

If the defendant is acquitted, then the trial is over. If the jury finds the defendant guilty, a sentencing trial will be set by the judge to determine the length and nature of the sentencing.

What Happens When Someone Presses Charges Against You for Assault?

What happens when someone presses charges against you for assault? If the charge is an assault charge, the individual will likely be hearing from the police.

With assault charges, the process is largely the same as when theft charges are pressed against an individual. However, there are some misconceptions when it comes to assault charges, particularly concerning the difference between assault and battery.

Assault Charge vs. Battery Charge

The key difference between an assault charge and a battery charge is that assault is when someone reasonably fears for their well being. This is open to some interpretation in the courts but it generally refers to any situations where someone was unwillingly forced into a situation where they believe that they are (or were) in danger of being physically harmed.

Battery, on the other hand, is when someone physically harms another. Although there is substantial overlap, the distinction is important, because if someone was not actually harmed, then battery charges will likely not be brought against the aggressor.

Simple Assault vs. Aggravated Assault

Finally, there is the additional distinction of simple assault and aggravated assault. Once again, the difference is very slight but extremely important when pressing charges, because the two different charges have different consequences.

Simple assault can be viewed as attempted battery. Usually, the victim believes that the aggressor intends to harm them. Some kind of harm must still be carried out for simple assault charges to be brought but the harm can be minor or emotional in some cases. In most cases, simple assault is a misdemeanor.

Aggravated assault is far more serious that simple assault. Aggravated assault cases are when the aggressor causes serious physical harm to the victim, often with the use of a weapon of some kind. In most cases, aggravated assault will be brought as a felony charge.

For more information on the distinction between the two charges, it’s best to look into local laws, which can usually be found under the penal codes section of the local government website.

California legislative information website screenshot

Search by term (such as assault and battery) to see the law concerning that type of charge.

Legal Process of Assault Charges

Just like theft charges, assault charges are filed by a prosecutor, rather than an individual. Although the victim will likely be the one that reports the crime and cooperates with the police in order to gather enough evidence to file charges, the decision is still made by the prosecutor.

Step 1: Filing Charges

Whether the police were called when the crime was being committed or if they were contacted by the victim after the fact, the police will still go to the prosecutor with their findings. Should the prosecutor believe that there is substantial evidence that a crime occurred, then the charges will be filed.

In many assault cases, the police will have been called to the scene of the crime. In this case, the police may make the decision to arrest the aggressor, if there is sufficient evidence that a crime occurred. In this case, the aggressor will likely remain in police custody at least until the arraignment.

Once charges are filed by the prosecutor, the arraignment hearing will be set.

Step 2: Arraignment: What Happens After a Prosecutor Files Charges?

At the arraignment hearing a judge will read the charges being brought against the assailant and ask if they are choosing to plead guilty or not guilty. Once again, at this stage of the proceedings lawyers play a major role.

In some cases the defense lawyer may convince their client to take a plea deal from the prosecutor. This usually involves avoiding trial in favor of a reduced sentence.

Regardless of the plea, if the charges being brought are felony charges, the assailant will be arrested, and there will be an arrest record placed on file, if they haven’t been already.

Step 3: Release Conditions & Pre-Trial

Should the assailant plead not guilty, then the trial will continue with the judge setting the release conditions, such as the bail amount.

During this next phase the defense and prosecuting lawyers will deliberate to share evidence and possibly work out a plea deal.

Step 4: Plea Deals

If the defense attorney and prosecutor are able to work out a plea deal, they will bring these conditions before a judge and the punishment will be carried out. As mentioned, most plea deals involve reducing sentencing for a crime as well as other stipulations like various kinds of rehabilitation outside of the jail time.

In many cases, the defense attorney and prosecutor may be unwilling to come to an agreement. In this case a trial date will be set and the case will proceed to the next phase as lawyers prepare for the trial date.

Step 4: Trial & Sentencing

On the day of the trial, all involved parties will be required to be at the courthouse. Before the actual deliberations begin the lawyers will first select jurors with the judge. Once the jury has been decided the trial itself will begin.

If the jury chooses to acquit, the trial is effectively over and the assailant is absolved of all chargers. If they choose to convict, then the trial will proceed to the sentencing phase where the judge will make the final decision on the punishment that will be carried out.

What Happens When You’re Charged by the Police?

What happens when someone presses charges against you and the police are involved? The process depends entirely on the crime and where it was committed, but there are a few things that are likely to happen.

Anytime someone has been charged with a crime, those charges are filed by the prosecutor, not the police. Although the police have the power to make arrests if they witness or believe a crime has taken place, only a prosecutor can file formal charges that will result in a trial and sentencing.

Although only the prosecutor can file the formal charges, the police play a major role in the process. Prosecutor decisions to file charges are almost always due to police reports (arrest reports) that are submitted to the prosecutor. These police reports are important during the trial and can usually be requested using the freedom of information act.

Once the prosecutor has filed charges the person that the charges were filed against will be notified of the arraignment date (misdemeanors) OR a warrant will be issued and the person the charges were filed against will be arrested before their arraignment date (felony).

Screenshot of FOIA website for finding charges.

The Freedom of Information Act allows all U.S. Citizens to request copies of public records, including criminal and civil charges.

From that point, the process proceeds as any trial would.

Can You Have a Dropped Charge Expunged?

Can you have a dropped charge expunged? The answer is fairly complicated but in many cases the answer is yes. However, the process depends on what crime was committed and where it was committed.

Laws for expunging or sealing records vary by jurisdiction. The process also varies but usually involves filing a petition to the court which will then be reviewed by a judge and a prosecutor.

For individuals who are hoping to get a record sealed, it’s always a good idea to talk to a lawyer to learn about the process and see if it is possible for the charges filed in the jurisdiction where it took place. There is also the option of searching your local government and court websites for information. 

Finding out charges have been filed can be a scary and nerve-wracking process, talking to a lawyer to better understand what is going should always be the first step. But, knowing what happens when someone presses charges against you can help alleviate the worry.