In the criminal justice system, oftentimes, the language that gets used by attorneys, judges, and court staff can be just as confusing as the process itself.
This is evident not just when individuals have to deal with the justice system, but also when big news breaks about high profile criminal cases, which there seem to be a lot of lately (Manafort, Cohen, Cosby, etc.).
One confusing criminal law term that the FindLaw team has seen being used more than usual lately is “an information,” which is and isn’t quite what it sounds like.
So What’s “an Information”?
Generally, when a person is going to be charged with a crime, they are afforded constitutional protections. One of those is the right to have their case evaluated by a grand jury. However, if a defendant waives that right, an information (rather than a grand jury indictment) can get the formal criminal justice process started. Defendants frequently waive certain rights for expediency’s sake, especially when they plan to accept a plea bargain.
Thus, an information is like a grand jury indictment, but without the grand jury (because why waste scarce judicial resources if a defendant is going to waive their constitutional right, right?). Basically, it’s a document prepared by prosecutors upon which criminal charges are brought. Like a complaint in a civil case, an information must contain the pertinent details for a defendant to be able to understand what the charges are that are being brought against them. These are often “filed” after a preliminary hearing and are used in many state jurisdictions and in the federal criminal courts as well.
Generally, the information is based upon police reports, other investigatory documents from law enforcement, and sometimes even statements of other individuals.
- Which States Use Criminal Grand Juries? (FindLaw Blotter)
- Can Calling the Cops Be a Hate Crime? (FindLaw Blotter)
- Crime Lab Finds Synthetic Marijuana Laced With Fentanyl (FindLaw Blotter)