Can You File Private Criminal Charges against Someone

Can You File Private Criminal Charges against Someone

A private criminal prosecution is a criminal proceeding that is filed by an individual or an organization rather than the public prosecutor that represents the state. In the past, private prosecutions were allowed in most states under common law. However, this is not the case today.

Almost all criminal prosecutions today are initiated by public prosecutors who file a case in court acting as a district attorney for the state. Private prosecutions were disallowed in the US after the Leeke v. Timmerman, (1981), 452 U.S. 83 case. There were only certain cases in the past when private attorneys were allowed to conduct criminal investigations instead of a public prosecutor such as in the Young v. U.S. ex re. Vuitton et Fils, (1987) 481 U.S. 787 case.

When Can a Person File a Private Criminal Case in Court

The court allows private individuals to file for minor or misdemeanor crimes. The police and the prosecutors’ office are not involved in such cases. Examples of minor or petty crimes include filing a charge against another for trespassing or battery in a domestic abuse case.

In a private criminal case, the private attorney acting on behalf of the client presents evidence in court. This is similar to presenting evidence in a serious criminal case by a public prosecutor. The police and other individuals can also present evidence against the defendant in a petty crime or misdemeanor case.

In addition to individuals, private agencies can also prosecute someone for a petty crime. Animal protection agencies, domestic violence abuse protection agencies, and others may file cases in court against an individual or organization. In such situations, private attorneys are hired to fight the cases for them.

That being said, sometimes the prosecutor might decide to intervene in a private criminal case after learning about the allegations and the charges. If the prosecutor takes over the case, the individual is no longer allowed to file private criminal charges.


A person can file a criminal case in court for minor crimes. The court treats such cases as civil cases and prosecutes the criminals. Public prosecutors do not intervene in private criminal cases unless they believe that it is better in the interest of society.

Keep in mind that the police will not arrest a person when a private criminal charge is filed.  The individuals filing charges need to gather evidence that implicates the accused person in the crime. In this situation, the help of a private criminal attorney can prove invaluable, and result in a greater likelihood of a decision in your favor.


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