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How do prosecutors decide to prosecute a case?

When authorities believe a crime has been committed and make an arrest, charges are not always a guarantee. Before pressing charges, the police will write an arrest report and have it looked at by a prosecutor. The prosecutor will then make a judgment: should I send this case to a grand jury and let them decide what charges to file? Should I make charges formal without a grand jury or should I drop the case altogether?

It's important to understand that our criminal justice system is run by humans. Humans are subject to prejudice, preconceived notions and ulterior motives. In deciding whether to pursue a case or not, a prosecutor may have many things in mind:

  • Running for office. Prosecutors often have political aspirations so cases that might make them look tough on crime in their communities.
  • Office policies. In filing charges, prosecutors may simply be following office policies that determine which crimes will be pursued and which ones won't.
  • Their sense of right and wrong. As we stated earlier, prosecutors are human and thus have their own ideas of right and wrong. One prosecutor may see a certain crime as minor while another sees it as major.

If the prosecutor decides to go after a person who's been arrested, they will need to go before a judge and prove that they have enough evidence to take the case to trial.

As you can see, if you're accused of a crime like drug possession, the state is already preparing a case. That's why it may be in your best interests to speak with a criminal defense attorney and start building a defense.

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