accusatory instrument

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An accusatory instrument, similar to a criminal complaint, is a document which formally accuses a defendant of a criminal offense. Generally, this document must be signed by a party who has knowledge that the alleged criminal conduct took place. Failure to properly give the potential defendant an accusatory instrument can result in the case’s dismissal. 

The most common form of accusatory instrument is an indictment though many jurisdictions provide for alternative accusatory instruments for misdemeanors and infractions, such as tickets. 

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]