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Resolving Disputes Through Private Citizen Complaints


This article does NOT cover filing a domestic violence complaint

You can file a complaint in municipal court against another person, business or public official including political candidates alleging that they violated a law. This kind of complaint is called a “private citizen complaint.” This article will explain the way private citizen complaints are generally handled under a court rule. But because each municipal court may have its own procedures, it is a good idea to call the municipal court or police department or visit their website if you want to file a private citizen complaint.

How do I file a private citizen complaint?

If you decide to file a complaint, you are the complainant; the person or business you are filing a complaint against is the defendant. As part of the certification, you must describe what happened and what law or municipal ordinance the defendant violated. To file a private citizen complaint, you must go to the municipal court where the alleged violation of the law took place and fill out a complaint information form with the defendant’s name and address and a certification to support probable cause. Your complaint must be accepted if you have filled out everything correctly. As part of the certification, you must describe what happened and what law or municipal ordinance the defendant violated.

What happens after I file the complaint information form?

After you file the complaint information form, it will be reviewed by the county prosecutor if it alleges that an indictable offense (serious criminal offenses) occurred or if you are filing a complaint against a public official. A municipal court employee will review the complaint if it alleges that a non-indictable offense (less serious criminal offense) occurred. Your complaint will either be approved or denied.

If your complaint is approved, the municipal court employee or a judge will decide if there is “probable cause.” “Probable cause” is defined as a reason to believe that a violation took pace, that the defendant violated the law and that a summons or complaint should be issued. If they find that there is no probable cause, they will not take the next step of issuing a summons and complaint-warrant. If they find that there is probable cause, a summons or complaint-warrant will be issued. Your complaint will then be handled as part of the regular municipal court case docket.

Will there be a trial?

Probably not. Judges, prosecutors, and municipal court employees have the authority to dismiss or lower the charges you made. The defendant may also decide to plead guilty. Finally, the court may also ask the defendant and you to resolve (mediate) your dispute with the help of another person who is not involved in the dispute (mediator). If the defendant and you can come to an agreement, your complaint will be dismissed.