Filing of Formal Charges
The State Attorney’s Office (the State) has sole discretion to file formal criminal
charges. In Miami-Dade County, the State files charges in approximately 60% of
arrests involving adults. The State may file charges even if witnesses do not
want to testify against the defendant or do not want to proceed with the case.
For felonies, the charging document most commonly used is called an
“information.” The prosecutor has 30 days from the date of arrest to file the
charging document. However, in Miami-Dade County, nearly all defendants are set
for arraignment on felony charges on the twenty-first day after their arrest. If
the charging document is not filed by the twenty-first day, and the defendant is
in custody, his defense attorney can ask the judge either to release the
defendant on his promise to appear in court or to hold an adversary preliminary
hearing, which requires the State to produce evidence showing probable cause for
the charges. Notwithstanding either defense request, if the prosecution intends
to file a charging document, it will request an extension until the 30th day. On
the 30th day, if the prosecution does not have a charging document, the court
will order that the defendant be released on his own recognizance by the 33rd
day, unless the state attorney files charges by that date. If the prosecution
shows good cause, it can request to have the defendant remain incarcerated until
the 40th day. No individual shall remain in custody for more than 40 days if no
charging document has been filed.
Another way a person can be charged with a
violation of law is by “indictment," a formal document issued by a grand jury
usually charging a felony punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment.
It is based upon the facts and circumstances of a case as presented to the grand
jury by the prosecution. A grand jury is composed of 21 Miami-Dade County
citizens who have been selected from countywide voter rolls. A grand jury has
broad powers to investigate a wide range of criminal offenses and to examine the
performance of public officials and public institutions. Its deliberations are
conducted in secret, in conjunction with the State Attorney. After hearing
evidence presented by the prosecution, the grand jury decides whether charges
should be filed and, if so, what those charges should be.