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The Police Charged Me with a Crime: Can a Prosecutor Enhance the Charges Once the Case goes to Court?

Criminal Trial

When someone is arrested and charged with one or two criminal violations, they may breathe a sigh of relief because there were other potential violations they could have been charged with. This sense of relief may be premature, however, because the initial charges that are filed in court could be altered by the prosecutor at a later date, depending on how the case goes.

The Role of the Police and the Prosecution during a Criminal Proceeding

Before getting into when and under what circumstances the prosecution might add charges or make the charges more serious, it is important to understand the distinct roles the police and prosecutors play in a criminal proceeding in Kentucky. Arrests and prosecutions are separate functions. The system is set up this way primarily to protect citizens from the arbitrary use (and abuse) of police power.

When it comes to making arrests, the job of the police is to only arrest a criminal suspect when they have good reason (i.e., “probable cause”) to believe that a certain crime has been committed. As an aside, one way to challenge a case is to file a motion to dismiss for lack of probable cause.

After the arrest, the police officer drafts a citation outlining the offenses the accused is charged with and files it with the court. Prosecutors can add charges or dismiss charges pursuant to the criminal rules at arraignment or at any point while the case is pending, but whatever a police officer charges someone with when they arrest them will be their initial charges in court.

When Does a Prosecutor Usually Alter Charges in a Criminal Case?

Prosecutors in Kentucky generally do not like to alter the initial charges that are submitted by the police. Police and prosecutors have close working relationships, and prosecutors usually stick with the initial charges, unless they have strong reason to believe that the police got it wrong.

New information may also surface while the case is progressing that helps or hurts the defendant. A prosecutor is supposed to take all of this information into account when deciding which charges will ultimately be brought against the defendant at trial. In addition to newly discovered evidence, other situations in which a defendant’s charges may be enhanced or reduced include:

  • A legal error
  • Perjury or falsified evidence
  • Fraud or misrepresentation that impacts the proceedings
  • Any other extraordinary reason

The most common scenario in which prosecutors usually alter a defendant’s charges is when charges are used as leverage during settlement negotiations/plea bargains. For example, a cop may charge someone for DUI after a wreck and having PC for impairment and those will be the charges initially brought to court. However, if the defendant won’t just plead or asks for discovery or files a motion to suppress, the prosecutor may threaten (or actually go ahead and) add charges for wanton endangerment, criminal mischief, and other related charges.

Defendants may wonder why a prosecutor doesn’t just “throw the book” at them and charge them with all the offenses they believe they can get a conviction for in the first place. The main reason for this is that prosecutors have limited resources, and they must allocate their resources carefully.

Prosecutors and police have heavy workloads, and many Kentucky courts have lengthy backlogs of cases that are waiting to go to trial. If prosecutors took every case to trial – even every “open and shut” case where they are almost certain to get a conviction on all charges – it could result in months or even years of pretrial activity, which would extend the court backlogs even further.

Taking every case to trial would not only make it more difficult for the court system, it would be taxing for police officers as well. The police are busy patrolling the streets and protecting the community. If officers had to take time off from work to testify in court every time one of the defendants they arrested was on trial, it could make the communities less safe.

In the interests of efficiency, prosecutors are highly motivated to minimize the amount of cases that go to trial. And if there are additional charges they could bring (based on the circumstances of the case) and the defendant does not want to make a deal, prosecutors are more likely to add these charges (or at least threaten to do so) as leverage to bring the defendant back to the bargaining table.

This situation can work to the advantage of defendants as well, especially if they have an experienced criminal defense attorney working on their behalf. For example, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can thoroughly investigate the case and identify any facts or pieces of evidence that may weaken the prosecution’s case. This information can be used as leverage to negotiate a reduction in charges or lighter sentence, or in some cases, have the charges dropped altogether. This is why it is essential for defendants to have strong legal counsel in their corner advocating forcefully for their rights and interests.

Can a Prosecutor Enhance my Charges Once the Case Goes to Court?

In general, prosecutors are able to amend a charge to whatever they think they can prove up until the time that jeopardy attaches (i.e., the trial has begun). In some limited circumstances, prosecutors may even be allowed to alter a defendant’s charges after a trial begins. One example may be an attempted murder case in which a body is found during the course of the trial. In this type of case, the prosecutor might have an argument for upgrading to a murder charge. These are rare circumstances, however, and since a judge must grant the prosecutor’s motion to alter the charge once the trial has started, there would have to be an extraordinary reason for doing so.

Contact an Experienced Kentucky Criminal Law Attorney

If you, or a loved one, has been charged with a crime, contact the skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney at Ron Aslam Law Office.