Throughout this week we have been reviewing the journey of accusatory instruments which commence criminal cases. We have retraced their movements from the complainants whose accusation inspires their creation through the courts who validate the structure of their content to the attorneys who discredit them or modify them to more accurately represent the facts. While following this journey has revealed the function of what an accusatory instrument does, we now shift our attention to how and why an accusatory instrument does those things by reviewing the form and content prescribed in CPL § 100.15.

Accusations are not lightly taken because they are backed by the full force of the Criminal Justice system. Investigators, Police, Prisons, Attorneys, Judges, and Juries are all called into service to act upon them. CPL § 100.15 is constructed with these service-members in mind, as to guarantee that their services are not wasted on baseless rumors and hearsay. As such, the initiate of an accusation – the complainant – is required to possess personal knowledge, information, or belief of the facts contained in the accusation.


CPL § 100.15 subsection 1 requires that each instrument contain the name of the court in which it is filed, a proper title, and the complainant’s signature. In addition, “each instrument must contain an accusatory part and a factual part.”



Subsection 2 describes the required content of the accusatory part, while subsection 3 describes the required content of the factual part. Subsection 4 describes additional requirements for accusations of violent and armed felony offenses. Gilbert’s Criminal Practice stresses that, “…it is the content and function that control the nature of the instrument and the requirements that apply. See People v. Fernandez, 20. N.Y.3d 44, 956 N.Y.S.2d 443, 980 N.E.2d 491 (2012),”[ii] [emphasis added].

Accusatory Content

Each instrument must designate the offense(s) charged against the defendant(s).

The Factual Content

Each instrument must contain the complainant’s statement of the facts.

Armed & Violent Felony Content

The accusatory part must designate the offense as an armed felony and the factual part must support the designation. Quite simply, it is not enough to say one injured another, but rather that one shot, bludgeoned, pulled a gun or knife on another.

A defendant is arrested, and the police throw everything in the book at him. He never asks for a lawyer and is arraigned. Bail is set at $10,000 cash/$20,000 bond. Before trial the accusatory instrument is amended to a lesser charge. Had the defendant asked for a lawyer when being read his charges, the lawyer would have challenged the severity of the charge, bail may have been reduced or not incarcerated at all and the client may not have been absent from work and would still have his or her job. This happens every day.

The Law Office of John C. Nelson represents people throughout Erie County including Springville Village Court, Concord Town Court, Sardinia Town Court, Boston Town Court, Cheektowaga Town Court, as well as most of Cattaraugus County on DWI, traffic and all criminal and drug charges.


[ii]NY CLS Desk Edition Gilbert’s Criminal Practice Annual 2014 Edition (Matthew Bender), CPL-209