The police or the district attorney, submits a written criminal complaint to an issuing authority. A criminal complaint is the initial charging document. Usually a police officer writes the criminal complaint but the district attorney’s office can file what is called a private criminal complaint on behalf of a private citizen if the police refuse to bring charges on behalf of the private citizen. The person who drafts the complaint is called the affiant. The affiant must sign the bottom of the complaint swearing under oath and risk of perjury that the facts as set above are true and correct to the best of their knowledge.

An issuing authority is someone who has the power to sign a criminal complaint into a legally binding document, this includes both judges from the minor judiciary such as district judges and magistrates and also judges from the major judiciary such as the Court of Common Pleas. The complaint itself must give the defendant notice of the charges against him and must set forth enough of a factual basis that the issuing authority can find probable cause for the offenses charged. A criminal complaint must be based on probable cause as determined by the issuing authority. Once the issuing authority signs the criminal complaint the criminal court case proceeds either by way of summons or by a formal arrest warrant.

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