California Penal Code 804 PC specifies that prosecution on a criminal case begins when charges are filed, the defendant gets arraigned, or a bench– or arrest warrant gets issued. Merely investigating a criminal suspect does not comprise prosecution.
The full text of the statute reads as follows:
PC 804 Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, for the purpose of this chapter, prosecution for an offense is commenced when any of the following occurs:
(a) An indictment or information is filed.
(b) A complaint is filed charging a misdemeanor or infraction.
(c) The defendant is arraigned on a complaint that charges the defendant with a felony.
(d) An arrest warrant or bench warrant is issued, provided the warrant names or describes the defendant with the same degree of particularity required for an indictment, information, or complaint.
California Penal Code 804 PC specifies that criminal prosecution on a case begins when one of the following seven things happens:
- An indictment is filed (only in grand jury cases);
- An information is filed;
- A complaint is filed for a misdemeanor;
- A complaint is filed for an infraction;
- The court arraigns the defendant on a felony charge;
- The court issues an arrest warrant for the defendant’s arrest; or
- The court issues a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest.
Therefore, prosecution for a criminal case has not begun when a criminal case is still under investigation. It is only when an indictment, information, or complaint gets filed, or when an arraignment occurs, or when an arrest- or bench warrant issues, that prosecution has officially begun against the defendant in California.
In cases where the police witness people committing a crime and arrest them on the spot, prosecution does not officially begin until later when the prosecutor files charges against them. And if the D.A. declines to file charges, then no prosecution occurred at all.1
- California Penal Code 804 PC – Commencement of prosecution. See also: Van Audenhove v. Perry (Cal. App. 4th Dist. May 19, 2017), 217 Cal. Rptr. 3d 843, 11 Cal. App. 5th 915; People v. Doolittle (Cal. App. 6th Dist., 2014), 229 Cal. App. 4th 589, 177 Cal. Rptr. 3d 333