Every criminal defense attorney works with clients who are generally in two types of situations. There are the folks who get charged for offenses close to when the events happened, such as assault cases. Then there are the clients who are investigated for allegations. If you're in the latter group, you're probably wondering when you'll know whether the police are done with you or ready to press charges. Let's look at how charging unfolds most of the time within the American system of criminal law.
Individuals charged with offenses almost immediately after certain events, such as fistfights or domestic violence calls, are often not subject to extensive investigations. Charging usually occurs within days of the events in question. When charges are filed and the court moves ahead with the case, the arresting police officer will submit an affidavit explaining what happened and why they felt there was probable cause to arrest the person. In other words, you'll know what you're being accused of pretty quickly.
Some criminal offenses require a certain amount of investigation before the police can file charges. For example, the cops rarely just bust someone suspected of selling drugs. Instead, they monitor the person's activities and document when sales occur. It's pretty standard practice for undercover police officers to perform buys.
Investigations may lead to searches. While you won't yet know what you're being charged with, the specific items in a search warrant will provide some big clues. The cops don't list a gun in a warrant, for example, unless they believe strongly that it's tied to a crime and can convince a judge to give them a warrant.
Proceedings kept under seal can be especially tricky to defend yourself against. Depending on the nature of the investigation, you may not even be aware the police are interested in you as a suspect. A grand jury, which is a collection of judges, will be convened to rule on questions of law the police have, such as getting warrants and issuing charges. All of this occurs behind closed doors, and you may not know you're under a cloud of suspicion until you've been arrested or served a summons.
Regardless of how the police proceed, you will eventually have the right to hear the charges against you in court. At an arraignment, you will be informed of the allegations against you and some basic details of how and why you're being charged.