Rule 3. The Complaint

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The complaint is a written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged. Except as provided in Rule 4.1, it must be made under oath before a magistrate judge or, if none is reasonably available, before a state or local judicial officer.


(As amended Apr. 24, 1972, eff. Oct. 1, 1972; Apr. 22, 1993, eff. Dec. 1, 1993; Apr. 29, 2002, eff. Dec. 1, 2002; Apr. 26, 2011, eff. Dec. 1, 2011.)

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1944

The rule generally states existing law and practice, 18 U.S.C. 591 [now 3041] (Arrest and removal for trial); United States v. Simon (E.D.Pa.), 248 F. 980; United States v. Maresca (S.D.N.Y.), 266 F. 713, 719–721. It eliminates, however, the requirement of conformity to State law as to the form and sufficiency of the complaint. See, also, rule 57(b).

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1972 Amendment

The amendment deletes the reference to “commissioner or other officer empowered to commit persons charged with offenses against the United States” and substitute therefor “magistrate.”

The change is editorial in nature to conform the language of the rule to the recently enacted Federal Magistrates Act. The term “magistrate” is defined in rule 54.

Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules—1993 Amendment

The Rule is amended to conform to the Judicial Improvements Act of 1990 [P.L. 101–650, Title III, Section 321] which provides that each United States magistrate appointed under section 631 of title 28, United States Code, shall be known as a United States magistrate judge.

Committee Notes on Rules—2002 Amendment

The language of Rule 3 is amended as part of the general restyling of the Criminal Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic and no substantive change is intended, except as described below.

The amendment makes one change in practice. Currently, Rule 3 requires the complaint to be sworn before a “magistrate judge,” which under current Rule 54 could include a state or local judicial officer. Revised Rule 1 no longer includes state and local officers in the definition of magistrate judges for the purposes of these rules. Instead, the definition includes only United States magistrate judges. Rule 3 requires that the complaint be made before a United States magistrate judge or before a state or local officer. The revised rule does, however, make a change to reflect prevailing practice and the outcome desired by the Committee—that the procedure take place before a federal judicial officer if one is reasonably available. As noted in Rule 1(c), where the rules, such as Rule 3, authorize a magistrate judge to act, any other federal judge may act.

Committee Notes on Rules—2011 Amendment

Under the amended rule, the complaint and supporting material may be submitted by telephone or reliable electronic means; however, the rule requires that the judicial officer administer the oath or affirmation in person or by telephone. The Committee concluded that the benefits of making it easier to obtain judicial oversight of the arrest decision and the increasing reliability and accessibility to electronic communication warranted amendment of the rule. The amendment makes clear that the submission of a complaint to a judicial officer need not be done in person and may instead be made by telephone or other reliable electronic means. The successful experiences with electronic applications under Rule 41, which permits electronic applications for search warrants, support a comparable process for arrests. The provisions in Rule 41 have been transferred to new Rule 4.1, which governs applications by telephone or other electronic means under Rules 3, 4, 9, and 41.

Changes Made to Proposed Amendment Released for Public Comment

No changes were made in the amendment as published.