Delaware County, Indiana

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Filing of Criminal Charges

A criminal case is usually initiated by the investigation of criminal activity by police officers employed by law enforcement agencies. The Delaware County Prosecutor's Office does not engage in direct investigation of criminal matters. The investigation of criminal matters is the province of law enforcement agencies, which are responsible for investigating crimes committed in their jurisdictions. A police officer's job is to collect evidence, interview witnesses, and record as completely and accurately as possible the facts involved in the commission of a crime. The Delaware County Prosecutor's Office will assist police officers and law enforcement agencies in ongoing investigations by providing legal advice to the police to insure that they do not violate the rights of the suspect, and also to advise the police on what evidence would be necessary to obtain a conviction in a Court for any crime they are investigating. When a police officer has completed his investigation, the officer will then present the case to the Delaware County Prosecutor's Office, upon which a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney will review the investigation to determine if the filing of criminal charges is appropriate and warranted.

The Delaware County Prosecutor's Office receives a variety of police investigations. These investigations can range from the relatively straightforward (but unfortunately too common) street arrest for criminal activity witnessed by the uniformed officer, such as a Operating While Intoxicated, to very complex investigations involving several detectives gathering information over a substantial period of time. These investigations will ordinarily involve much more serious criminal activity, such as murder. A  long period of time may be required to untangle a complex web of criminal activity, such as a white collar fraud scheme. Even though at times it may appear to the public that the police or the prosecutor is slow in acting on allegations of criminal activity, there is often a great deal of time consuming work necessary to collect all of the evidence necessary to file a criminal charge.
A Deputy Prosecuting Attorney who receives a criminal case from a police officer is given the job of "screening" the case. The Deputy must first determine whether or not the facts alleged, if true, constitute a crime. Crimes are very specifically defined by the Indiana General Assembly.  If the facts discovered by the police officer do not fit any listed crime, then no charge can be filed. For example, Murder is defined as knowingly or intentionally killing another human being. If a case of one person killing another is presented to a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, and the evidence shows that the death was accidental, the elements of the crime of murder are not present, and no criminal charge of murder can be filed.

Second, the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney must determine whether there is enough evidence to support the criminal charge. For a criminal charge to be filed, there must be credible probable cause to believe a person committed a crime. The amount of proof for probable cause is not very great. However, in order to get a conviction for the crime, the proof must be Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, which is a very high standard. The Deputy who files a case must assess whether this high standard can be met, as he or she will be required to satisfy this burden in Court. Even if there is reason to believe a person has committed a crime, and a charge could be filed, if the case is not supported by credible probable cause or if the evidence will not support a conviction, a charge will not be filed.

A criminal charge can be filed before or after the police have arrested a person. If the charge is filed before the arrest, the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney may request that the Court issue an arrest warrant for the person, after which a bond amount will be set on the warrant.
Once a criminal case has been filed, there are a number of potential hearings which can take place. First, once a Defendant has been arrested, he or she is brought before a Court for what is called an "initial hearing". At this hearing, the Defendant is advised of and provided a copy of the charges, and advised of his/her constitutional rights. At this hearing, it is also determined whether the Defendant intends to hire an attorney or needs an attorney appointed by the Court. The Court will also schedule a pre-trial conference, and may also set a trial date. If the Defendant's bond has not been set, a bond will be set at the initial hearing.

A pre-trial conference is usually an informal meeting between the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, the defendant's lawyer and the Judge. The Defendant may also be required to attend, at the Court's discretion. At this hearing, it is determined whether any other hearings are needed, whether the case is likely to proceed to trial, and how long the trial will take. Other hearings which may take place before the trial include a bond reduction hearing or a suppression hearing, at which the Defendant may ask the Court to not allow the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney to use or present certain evidence at trial.

Due to the large number of cases filed by the Delaware County Prosecutor's Office, it is impractical to take them all to trial. There is a give and take process with the Defendant's lawyer, during which the parties may reach an agreement. Under the terms of the agreement the Defendant usually takes a conviction in exchange for some guarantee of the type of conviction or sentence. In cases where a person has suffered injury or a loss of property, the Delaware County Prosecutor's Office will notify the person of the terms of the proposed negotiated settlement, and give them the opportunity for input on how the case is disposed.