Our criminal defense law firm represents persons charged with crimes and offenses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. These allegations range from serious drugs and narcotics to violent felony offenses. Most of these cases start with a police investigation or following a traffic stop. This is the primary reason why our criminal defense firm spends so much time explaining and discussing concepts like probable cause, reasonable suspicion and the burden of proof. There are situations, however, where are law firm defends or assists a client with private criminal complaint.
Private Criminal/Citizen Complaints – In General
The Pennsylvania and New Jersey Rules of Criminal Procedure, however, do allow private citizens to make a criminal complaint against another person. If a complaint is made, the District Attorney (Pennsylvania) or the Prosecutor (New Jersey) must determine if the alleged perpetrator should face criminal prosecution and a possible conviction.
Prior to filing a criminal complaint against someone, it is very important to understand that you should use a private criminal complaint to address a monetary or other dispute which is properly the subject of a civil action. Understand that filing criminal charges against another individual is a serious matter which requires that a crime has been committed and that the person(s) accused committed this crime (probable cause).
Before you file a Private Criminal Complaint, you must understand there are various laws in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Crimes Code that address improper or false criminal allegations; these include the following:
- False swearing
- Unsworn Falsification
- False Reports to Law Enforcement
The most common private criminal complaint include the following crimes and offenses:
- terroristic threats
Private Criminal Complaints in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 506 governs the treatment of private complaints which is what set this chain of events in motion. Pennsylvania allows for private citizens to file Private Criminal Complaints detailed in Title 42 Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 420 (Summary Violations), Rules 504 (Contents of Complaint) and Rule 506 (Approval for Private Complaints).
If the District Attorney disapproves a criminal complaint, that Office must state the reasons for the denial. In these situations, the affiant (the person filing the complaint) may petition the Court of Common Pleas to review the decision. It’s important to keep in mind however, that a district attorney’s decision not to prosecute a criminal complaint for reasons which include policy considerations or a hybrid of legal and policy considerations carries with it a presumption of good faith.
To overcome this good faith presumption, the affiant must demonstrate that the DA’s decision amounted to bad faith, fraud, or unconstitutionality. Where that evidence does not exist, the court will not override the District Attorneys exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
If the Court, however, finds that the DA did not act according to their duty, it can order the case to move forward to a preliminary hearing. This is the process regardless of whether a person is charged with a felony or misdemeanor offense.
At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution will still have to establish a Prima Facie case in order for this matter to move to trial. If the matter moves past a preliminary hearing, the defense can still get the matter dismissed with pre-trial motions such as Motions to Quash (Habeas Motion), as well as Motions to Suppress Evidence which was obtained in violation of Bostonians Fourth Amendment Rights, as well as his rights under the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article 1, Section 8).
Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey does not utilize a Preliminary Hearing system and the process is different especially for felony crime.
Private Criminal Complaints in New Jersey
In New Jersey, private complaints are also known as Citizen Complaints. Citizens are made in the municipal court for the municipality in which the offense occurred.
All complaints are immediately referred to the Prosecutor’s Office for review. The Prosecutor’s Office reviews the complaint, obtains any police reports that were prepared pertaining to it. The Prosecutor may also contact the complainant and alleged victim for further investigation, information and comment.
If the Prosecutor’s Office determines that the complaint falls within the jurisdiction of local municipal court, the crime charged be amended to disorderly persons offense (non indictable -non felony) The complaint will be returned to the municipal court for hearing.
If the allegation made in the complaint, however, is more serious, the Prosecutor will refer that matter to the Grand Jury. At this point, the indictable criminal complaint (felony crime) is prosecuted on behalf of the State of New Jersey, not the individual who signed the complaint. Pennsylvania, for the most part, does not use a Grand Jury to prosecute serious crimes.
If the matter is referred to Grand Jury, the Complainant may not be able to withdraw the complaint even if they no longer wish to pursue the matter. A number of factors are taken into account when deciding whether to honor a complainant’s request not to proceed with an indictable prosecution, including the following:
- the accused’s prior criminal history,
- the severity of the alleged crime and
- whether the accused has other pending charges in the criminal justice system.
For more information on criminal defense strategies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey I encourage you to keep reading our blog and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.
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Please click here to contact our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers. We offer free case reviews and serve the following areas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Atlantic City, Camden, Cherry Hill, Chester, Conshohocken, Doylestown, Media, Norristown, Philadelphia, Pottstown, Salem, Upper Darby, Upper Merion, Upper Providence, Vineland & Woodbury areas.