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Criminal Summons and Private Warrants: Citizen Initiated Criminal Proceedings

When an officer knocks on your door and hands you a criminal summons, what does that mean? While most of us will never experience this, many citizens will be served with a criminal summons taken out by another private citizen. In a criminal summons, a victim will allege that another private citizen has committed a criminal wrongdoing and just like that, the criminal process could be issued against you. But what many do not know is how this process works, what it is, and the repercussions it can have.

What It Is
A criminal summons is no different from a warrant for arrest besides the fact that you don’t get arrested and go to jail. You are still charged with a crime, you still have to go to court, and you are still facing criminal punishment. The difference between the two is that a criminal summons is only served on the defendant by law enforcement and the defendant is not arrested. When an arrest warrant is issued, the defendant is arrested, brought before a judge, and has a bond set before he is allowed to be released from custody. However, as alluded to above, this process changed on June 22, 2018.

The Issuance
Each county has a magistrate who hears complaints from private citizens and decides if there is probable cause to believe criminal wrongdoing has occurred. Prior to June 22, 2018, a private citizen would take an oath or affirmation administered by the magistrate, and would then write down the facts of the alleged incident. The magistrate would then review the written facts and decide if there was probable cause to issue process against the defendant. If the magistrate found that there was probable cause, they would then issue a criminal summons or an arrest warrant.

The New Changes
On June 22, 2018, a new law went into effect that drastically changes this process and no longer requires the complainant to write and swear to a set of facts. Instead, they can verbally describe the allegations to the magistrate who will then determine whether or not there are sufficient allegations to warrant criminal process. This change is detrimental to the defendants because now there is not a written document with specific facts alleged that can give the defendant notice as to what has been alleged against them. Furthermore, the change does away with the affidavit which is an admissible out-of-court statement that can be used as impeachment evidence or for other purposes should the matter go to trial.

How this Affects Defendants
When it comes to citizen-initiated criminal proceedings, defendants have always been placed in a precarious situation. If the magistrate issues a criminal summons, you could have a sheriff show up at your house or work and serve you with the summons. If the magistrate issues an arrest warrant, the defendant could be arrested at any time that he or she encounters law enforcement. Once the matter is in court, it usually boils down to “he said, she said” with no law enforcement to help the court determine what actually occurred. This is why, now more than ever, you need an attorney to help protect you from a possible life-altering criminal conviction.

At Jetton & Meredith, we have attorneys who practice in the field of criminal law and have helped thousands of clients with their criminal law needs. If you have been charged with a crime that was citizen-initiated, it is now more important than ever to consult an attorney to make sure your rights are protected. Call our office today to set up a consultation with one of our criminal law attorneys to see how you can ensure your rights and future are not defended.

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