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What is the difference between being arrested and being charged?

On Behalf of | Mar 13, 2023 | Criminal Defense, Criminal Justice |

Does arrest mean the same as being charged with a crime? When you see an arrest on television, you may see a detective place someone in cuffs saying, “you’re being charged with X, Y and Z,” but do police do both, arrest and charge?

Arrest basics

Generally, in most areas, like New York City, the police (NYPD) investigate alleged crimes after a report of a crime. When an investigation points to probable cause or reasonable grounds that a person is responsible for a crime, police can arrest that person.

Arrests are in the police’s hands. It’s important to remember that there are several types of law enforcement agencies with different jurisdictions, areas of enforcement, etc. For example, the NYPD cannot make an arrest in New Jersey.

Charges basics

After an arrest, police officers present their case to district attorneys who have a decision to make: do they have sufficient grounds to file charges against this person?

If they opt to pursue charges, the district attorney or the assistant district attorney will file charges. If they do not believe there are sufficient grounds to file charges, the accused will be released from jail.

Most areas, like New York and New Jersey, have prosecutors that bring local charges. For example, in Verona, New Jersey, the Essex County DA’s office handles the charges of the case.

As with police, there are levels of prosecution offices that handle different legal matters under local, state or federal law.


In short, arrests and charges are usually, separate. Generally, police arrest for suspicion of a crime, and prosecutors charge. Not all arrests lead to criminal charges or convictions.

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