An Accusatory Instrument is a document that is used by prosecutors and the Criminal courts to charge and prosecute someone accused of a crime . A violation is not a crime but is still a violation of the penal law. Crimes can be either for lesser offenses (misdemeanors) or for more serious offenses, a felony. Crimes have different degrees of severity depending on the seriousness of the crime and sometimes on whether it is a second or more instances of the crime committed by the same person. A crime in the first degree is the most serious and 2nd and 3rd degree etc. are less serious.
Misdemeanors can be unclassified or classified as an “A ” misdemeanor or a ” B ” Misdemeanor , with A being the more serious and B the less serious. An A misdemeanor carries a maximum period of incarceration ( jail/prison ) of up to 0ne year. A defense attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain and obtain a no jail promise with or without community service, with or without probation ( maximum probation for A misdemeanor is 3 years ). A case could possibly be dismissed if there is a defect in the accusatory instrument or other procedural matter. Also in some cases an ” ACOD ” ( ACD in New York City ) which is an adjournment of the case for a period of time ( usually 6 months ) in contemplation of a dismissal of the case. What this means is that the case is given an adjourned date and in the meantime the defendant must not get arrested and must comply with any other conditions imposed as part of the ACOD ( such as not violating an Order of Protection if there is one in place against the defendant- which there may be especially in a dispute between boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife ). If the defendant is sucessful in complying with all conditions then on the adjourned date the court will dismiss the case and there is no appearance required in court by the defendant.
By definition a Felony is a crime for which the sentence carries the possibility of a period of incarceration of more than one year. Felonies also come in different degrees of severity and are also classified as “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, “E” with “A” being the highest classification.
Typical Accusatory instruments for misdemeanors are: 1) Simplified Information ( usually traffic matters ), 2) Misdemeanor complaint which must be converted to a 3)Prosecutors Information ( conversion usually means the addition of sworn affidavits containing non hearsay( what constitutes hearsay and its exception is a huge area and too complex for this article) allegations of the offense ( reciting the elements to be proved of the offense and the acts which the defendant did which meet the requirements of the elements- if a prosecutor can only prove some, but not all the elements then the case is dismissed but the prosecutor may be able to recharge the defendant if he can meet all the elements ).Thus a simplified information, a misdemeanor complaint or prosecutor’s information are the main documents used to charge someone with the commisssion of a violation or crime of misdemeanor.
Typical Accusatory Instruments for felonies are: 1) a Felony Complaint or 2) an Indictment by the Grand Jury. A felony complaint must be converted to an indictment in order to prosecute the case. There is also a document called an “SCI” which stands for Superior Court Information ( as opposed to a misdemeanor information in a district court – a Superior Court is usually the County Court or the Supreme Court. In order for an ” SCI” to be used, the defendant must first sign in court and on the record, another document called a ” Waiver “. This waiver waives the defendant’s right to have the case presented to the grand Jury and have them return a verdict of a True Bill of Indictment and to then be prosecuted on that indictment and instead allow the prosecution to prosecute the case on the ” SCI “without the case going to the Grand Jury. An “SCI ” is generally used if there is a plea bargain agreed upon by Defendant, defendant’s counsel, the prosecutor and the Court ( the Judge ).
Watch for future articles on Criminal Law Procedure and also Areas of Civil Law.