[i] Generally, anyone may participate in the commencement of a criminal action. If you have ever been asked to give a statement to a police officer, you have contributed to the content of an accusatory instrument. Conversely, if you have been charged with Aggravated Harassment or Assault for example, it is likely that the alleged victim gave a statement to police, and your charges were commenced by way of a criminal complaint. The most common form of information is the “simplified traffic information” more commonly referred to as a traffic ticket.
CPL § 100.10 defines a complaint as “a verified written accusation by a person…” but “not as a basis of prosecution thereof…”
CPL § 100.10 defines an information as “a verified written accusation by a person…” or “by a police officer, or other public servant authorized by law to issue same …” or “by a district attorney…” and “serves as a basis for the prosecution of a criminal action.”
The difference reveals a staple of American Criminal Justice– checks and balances. Anyone may start a case, however CPL § 170.65 requires that a misdemeanor complaint be converted into an information, and outlines this review process.
Upon receiving a Felony Complaint the court will generally determine whether to hold the Defendant for a Grand Jury proceeding.
In any criminal proceeding it is important that counsel be present at arraignment to challenge the sufficiency of any allegations against you.
In the case of People v Chan (Juan), 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1849 (App. Term 2d Dept. Apr. 13, 2012) the Defendant forfeited an objection to sufficiency by pleading guilty.[ii]
[ii] NY CLS Desk Edition Gilbert’s Criminal Practice Annual 2014 Edition (Matthew Bender) CPL-208