What we measuring?
This measure tracks the percentage of people arrested for criminal violations for whom a decision to bring formal charges was made by a prosecutor's office.
Formal charges must be brought against a person who has been arrested for a criminal offense before a case can be filed in court. The Fulton County District Attorney is responsible for deciding whether to formally charge a person arrested for offenses that include a felony offense. The District Attorney brings formal charges through indictment by a grand jury but has the option of bringing charges without a grand jury through an accusation in the case of non-capital felonies in which the person arrested waives the right to a grand jury. The Fulton County Solicitor General is responsible for deciding whether to formally charge a person arrested for misdemeanor offenses. In the case of either a felony or misdemeanor violation, the formal charge only establishes that their is enough evidence to justify bringing the case before a court.
Why is it important?
An individual's arrest does not mean that they will or should be formally charged with a crime. Police officers make an arrest based on their believe that there is probable cause that the person has committed a crime. A prosecutor, on the other hand, can file formal charges only if they believe that they can prove a suspect guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A prosecutor also has considerable discretion in their decision to charge and can look at all the circumstances of a case, including the suspect’s past criminal record, in deciding whether and what to charge. While prosecutors must judge each case on its merits and should not set a target for the percentage of cases on which they file formal charges, an extremely low or extremely high charge rate may signal problems either with decisions to arrest by law enforcement or with the decisions or ability to file charges by the prosecutor.
How are we doing?
The rate of felony indictments by the District Attorney has been on a slight upward trend for the past several years, reaching a four-year high of about 94% in the third quarter of 2018 before dropping to about 87% in the last quarter. In contrast, the charge rate for misdemeanors by the Solicitor General remained around 50% until the last quarter of 2016, at which time the rate increased dramatically, reaching a four-year high of 87% by the fourth quarter of 2018. As a result, the combined felony and misdemeanor charge rate increased from around 60% in 2016 to 87% by the last quarter of the 2018.