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What is a Complaint?

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When a person feels that he or she has been wronged, or if an officer of the law or district is concerned about the well being of one or many individuals, the first step is to file a complaint with the appropriate official. This could be a county clerk, a court clerk or a magistrate, depending on whether the complaint is of civil or criminal nature.

What Is a Complaint?

This is the first document filed with the court considering a legal action against another. There are two types of complaints: civil complaints and criminal complaints. These are usually created by an attorney and must follow a specific format; in some cases there are pre-set forms, or the attorney or plaintiff can locate a template. In federal cases, a complaint is issued under oath.

Civil Complaint
A civil complaint outlines the claim, including damages sought and the cause of the complaint. The latter is referred to as "causes of action," and the plaintiff's attorney can list several, and include the facts surrounding each cause. The cause of action is the most crucial part of the civil complaint and it must contain a convincing rule of law that forms the basis of the complaint. The complaint also contains a caption, which is a summary of the case including location, file number and involved parties among other essential details. In cases where the court has limited jurisdiction, the complaint must establish that the case is falling into the correct jurisdiction.

Criminal Complaint
A criminal complaint assigns a certain person responsibility for a specific crime. The complaint must include the facts of the case and demonstrate probable cause. This complaint can be initiated by an interested party, including a victim, the authorities or a district attorney.

Once a complaint is filed with a county clerk or court clerk, a summons is issued outlining the case and providing the defendant with further instructions. There also is a filing fee that accompanies the complaint process. In the case of a criminal complaint, the document is issued to a magistrate, who then determines whether to issue a warrant for the arrest of the accused.

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