Written by attorney Luke Joseph Nichols

Virginia Citizen Complaints

I can count the number of times I have had someone ask me what they should do when the police refuse to take action against someone who has victimized them. When you have been the victim of a crime and the police wont act it can be very frustrating however, you are not powerless.There are a number of things you can do.

In Virginia when someone has committed a crime against you can do either or both of the following things: You can sue civily and/or you can file a petition for citizen complaint.

When you sue someone, you must sue them for a violation of a civil law; however, almost all criminal offenses also have similar civil version. There are a couple of advantages 1) civil suits are easier to prove than criminal cases, 2) you can get more money from a civil suit than most criminal cases where the victim never gets compensated, and 3) you get to control the civil case so you can stop the process anytime you want which you cannot do in criminal cases. The down side to civil suits is that you have to hire your own attorney, they take a lot more time, and there is usually no punishment involved just payment of money.

In Virginia, if you are the victim of a crime you have another option no matter whether you decide to sue or not. You can file a petition for a citizen's complaint. What you do is you take the place of the police and you appear in front of a General District Court judge in the county where the crime was committed and you present the evidence of your crime. If the judge agrees that there is sufficient evidence and he agrees that a law was broken then the judge orders that an arrest warrant be issued and the police will have to go and arrest the individual and he will be given a court date. Then the entire case is turned over to prosecution who will them make their decisions about how to handle the case.

Citizen complaint can be filed by simply going to the General District Court clerk and asking them for the forms, filing them out, and turning them in to the clerk. When a crime has been committed and you want the police to take action but they seem reluctant to act, a citizen's complaint is the mechanism for pushing the law forward.

One word of caution though, if the police investigated the crime but have not filed charges, talk to them first before getting a citizen's complaint. Often when it looks like they aren't doing anything about a crime, they are in fact just waiting for forensic testing result to come back before they file for the arrest warrant so that they do not mess up the prosecution. If that is the case you do not want to mess it up for them by preemptively getting a citizen's complaint. First find out whether they plan on ever pressing charges before you take matters in your own hands. Also, remember that once the judge issues the warrant it is out of your hands. You may be a witness but you no longer call the shots. If you decide that you don't want the defendant to go to jail then that is too bad because it is the prosecutors decision not your. So don't file a citizen's complaint unless you are serious about putting someone in jail.

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