The Justice Wire
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The Justice Wire

DATA Story: Inside the Incident-Arrest-Charge Funnel

A glimpse into the basic mechanics of the criminal justice system

  1. Incident: An incident of suspected criminal activity is reported to the police. An incident can be reported through a call to 911, directly to a police officer, or by an officer directly observing criminal activity. When the police receive an incident report, they investigate the incident and try to determine if there is a suspect to arrest. In some situations, such as when the police directly observe the criminal activity, they can make an arrest immediately. In others, an investigation can take days or months. In many cases, the police never make an arrest or determine that no criminal activity has taken place.
  2. Arrest: After investigating an incident, the police may arrest one or more individuals and bring them into police custody. The police then present their investigation to the District Attorney’s Office. A single incident may lead to multiple arrests, if multiple people were involved in the incident. For example, if two people attacked another person, the single incident (the attack) could lead to two arrests.
  3. Charge: After reviewing the police investigation, the District Attorney’s Office determines whether there is enough evidence to file criminal charges against the individuals arrested and what charges should be filed. When a person is suspected of having committed multiple distinct offenses, a single arrest may lead to multiple cases charged (for example, if a person steals two cars, they may be charged in two different theft cases). If there is not enough evidence to charge a case, the District Attorney’s Office can “decline” to charge the individual. If charges are declined, the police may gather more evidence before re-arresting the individual or they may stop pursuing the case.

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