FAQ: What is a criminal complaint in Texas?

What is a criminal complaint in Texas?

The word “complaint” has a different meaning in plain language than it does in criminal law.  In context of a criminal case, a “complaint” is a document containing a sworn statement that alleges that there is probable cause to believe that a person committed a crime.

Technically, any competent individual may legally file a complaint directly with a magistrate judge, district attorney, or county attorney. In practice, however, a victim or other witness reports a crime to law enforcement and then a peace officer investigates the allegations. The officer usually files a criminal complaint only if he believes that an offense actually occurred.

If a criminal complaint results in formal charges, the charging instrument is called an information (most misdemeanor cases) or an indictment (all felony cases and rare misdemeanor cases).  The lowest level misdemeanors are typically charged by citation.