Those of us lucky enough have only seen an accusatory instrument in the form of a traffic ticket. Those not so lucky, have received an information alleging a misdemeanor, or in more serious cases – a felony complaint. These documents are necessary legal records of due process which authorize the state to wield its prosecutorial powers and try your case before a jury of your peers. The requirement for accusatory instruments derives from the Constitutional 6th Amendment right to “be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation…” and takes the form of Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) § 100.05, titled Commencement of action. In a figurative sense, by filing an accusatory instrument the Police are snapping the football to the District Attorney.
Validity & Sufficiency
To be valid, the CPL § 100.05 statute requires that such an instrument be filed in a local, criminal court. Only an Indictment by a Grand Jury may filed with a superior court. CPL § 100.15 outlines the necessary content of an accusatory instrument including but not limited to each alleged offense and a statement of the facts in support of the alleged offense. § 100.40 defines the facial sufficiency of each of the various forms of accusatory instruments. When an accusation is filed by information, § 100.40 requires that every element of the offense charged be established by non-hearsay, factual allegations.
The human tendency is to cut corners, which often leads to incomplete reports and incomplete accusations. Defendants should have their attorney review every element of any accusatory instrument to establish that the charges are both credible, and accurate. A Prosecutor will have a hard time moving the football if his offensive line mishandles the snap.