Criminal Defendants on Trial – The Parties, Charges, Arraignment and Pleas

The Parties

The defendant is the accused person against whom the criminal charges have been brought. The Defense team is headed by the attorney and may include an investigator, paralegal and other support personnel who work at the lawyer’s direction to develop the particular case strategy.

The plaintiff is the other party to the court case. This is the party who has lodged the charges against the defendant and commenced the criminal court case. This party appears on the pleadings as the State of … This party is represented by the prosecuting authority which may be referred to by many names such as the StateState AttorneyDistrict Attorney or D.A. [in some states], ProsecutorProsecution or Prosecuting Attorney. The State Legislature defines and writes the criminal laws that apply to that state. When these laws are broken, it is the State that has been injured. Therefore, it is the State that is the plaintiff in the case. It is the State that prosecutes the defendant for breaking its law.

The Charges

Most state cases are commenced by drafting and filing an Information, which is a written allegation that begins the case in court. The information is a sworn complaint by the State Attorney who is charging the commission of a criminal offense against the laws of the State that has jurisdiction. The Informationdeclares that the State Attorney brings the charge.

An offense that may be punished by death [i.e. capital murder] must be prosecuted by Indictment. The state attorney is required to present sufficient evidence to the grand jury that (1) a crime was committed; and (2) the defendant is the one who committed that crime. If the grand jury believes there is sufficient evidence it will return an indictment, which is a plain and concise statement of the charge. It is the grand jury that brings the charge with an indictment. Where there is an Indictment there will not be an Information.

 

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