UNDERSTANDING “CHARGING DOCUMENTS” AND THEIR IMPORTANCE
Little attention is paid to charging documents. Charging documents are defined as documents that list the criminal charges that are filed against you in a court of law. In Georgia, charging documents are the accusation, the indictment, or the information.
If your case is being prosecuted in federal court, the charging document is known as the indictment or the information. If your case is prosecuted in superior court or state court, the charging document is referred to as the accusation or the indictment. In juvenile court, the charging document is known as the petition. While the name of the document depends on whether your case is prosecuted in federal, superior, state or juvenile court, its impact is critical and must be addressed promptly by the defense attorney.
Every criminal case in Georgia must begin with the filing with the clerk of court a document that sets the stage for the prosecution of the criminal matter. It initiates the criminal proceedings against you. The purpose of it is to give you notice of the charges against you, as required by the due process clause of the United States Constitution and Georgia law (O.C.G.A. 17-7-54). Therefore, it is critical that the defense attorney promptly addresses and attacks the charging document in your case.
For instance, if the charging document fails to sufficiently particularize the date of an alleged crime, there may be grounds for a dismissal. Perhaps, the charging document accuses one of violating the terms of a family violence order, but fails to state the manner in which the terms are violated. This lack of notice may also be grounds for a dismissal. However, it is important to note that a dismissal of the indictment pursuant to a successfully contested demurrer does not prohibit further prosecution or a re-indictment of the case.
Challenges to the charging document can set the tone for the prosecution of a criminal case by the defense attorney. Determining the flaws in the initial charging documents demonstrates the ability to fight the case at every level.