Nearly one in three Americans will have been arrested by age 23, according to information reported by the Brennan Center for Justice. In 2020 alone, there were 7.63 million arrests, according to Statista.

Not everyone arrested is charged with a crime, and those charged may not be found guilty. Rather, the criminal justice system follows steps once a crime allegedly happens.

Victims vs. prosecutors: Who presses charges?

One of the most common misconceptions in a criminal case is that a victim must press charges. This is the case in civil lawsuits, but in criminal cases, the prosecutor decides whether to press charges. A prosecutor is employed by the state and commonly works at the county or municipal level.

While victims do not need to press charges, they can file police reports against offenders.

“The prosecutor will then read the report prepared by the police and decide if the offense is valid enough to press charges against the criminal,” according to the Law Advisory.

If the prosecutor cannot decide whether to press charges, a grand jury can be organized, bringing together a group of citizens with a judge to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute.

Statutes of limitations

State and federal legislation determine how long prosecutors have to press charges, with more severe crimes usually having longer statutes of limitations. For example, many states don’t limit how long prosecutors have to file charges in murder cases, while some misdemeanors will have a limit of a couple of years or less.

“Once the time limit has expired, the prosecutor can still file the charges, but a defendant can bring a motion to have the charges dismissed,” according to “Judges don’t have flexibility on this issue — they must dismiss the case.”

In Texas, for instance, prosecutors have 10 years to file charges in the case of felony theft, forgery, arson, or sexual assault and 5 years to file in the case of insurance fraud or abandoning or endangering a child.

What happens after an arrest 

When a person has been arrested, a prosecutor will choose the severity and number of charges to file in a complaint to a trial court. Regardless of the charges, the defendant should contact a lawyer as soon as possible to ensure access to proper legal counsel for the full duration of criminal court proceedings.

“A defendant typically learns what the formal charges will be at the first court appearance,” according to legal information website Nolo. “But prosecutors’ initial charges are subject to change. For example, a prosecutor might not make a final decision on what charges to file until after a preliminary hearing, which may take place more than a month after arrest.”

A person cannot be held in jail longer than 72 hours (not counting weekends or holidays) without charges being filed. If someone is arrested and released on bond, the court has up to 180 days to file charges.

Release from jail

To be released on bond, a judge will often set bail based on the type of crime. Sometimes defendants will be released on personal recognizance, meaning they don’t have to pay but must commit to appearing at future court dates. Defendants who pay bail and fail to appear will lose that money.


If you’ve been charged with a crime, the attorneys at LaHood Norton Law Group can help. They use their combined 82 years of experience to advocate for client rights and pursue the best possible outcome. Visit for more information and to schedule a free consultation.