What Are Court Charges?

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  • Written By: Sandi Johnson
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 February 2020
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The meaning of the term court charges has more than one interpretation, depending on context. Most often, court charges are understood to mean official accusations levied by a judicial court system. Typically, court charges in such a context, regardless of jurisdiction, break down into either civil or criminal charges. Criminal charges are the result of an offender breaking the law or performing an illegal activity, resulting in endangerment, harm, or loss to the public. Civil charges are the result of a defendant causing harm or loss to an individual or group.

An individual charged in court, whether under civil or criminal codes, is legally obligated to answer. In criminal law, answering charges involves entering a plea of guilty, not guilty, or similar response. With regard to civil court charges, individuals must answer the charge by responding in an official capacity, usually by attending a hearing. In short, charges with regard to official accusations may be viewed as an official summons by the court for an individual to stand trial for a crime or appear in court to settle a civil dispute.


In addition to the standard meaning of court charges, the term can also reference instructions to a jury at the conclusion of a trial, before deliberations begin. At the end of a criminal trial, a judge instructs jurors with regard to the law, as well as what is required under the terms of jury duty, evidential considerations, and other instructions. Attorneys for the prosecution and the defense submit jury instructions to the judge, who then approves or denies the instructions, as well as adding his or her own inclusions as necessary. In outlining protocol in such a manner, the court charges the jury with reaching a decision by following instructions.

Some jurisdictions reference court filing fees, fines, and other monies paid to facilitate judicial operations as court charges. Each jurisdiction has some form of fee for services associated with both civil and criminal cases. Traffic violations, for example, may result in court costs and fines, sometimes referred to as charges. More commonly referred to as court costs in North American countries, other jurisdictions may also reference such fees as charges.

Since the term court charges can have multiple meanings, it is imperative to understand the context under which it is being used. Judicial accusations, the standard meaning of court charges, involve official notice served by an officer of the court in which the charges are filed. Jury instructions, also known as a court charge to the jury, are oral instructions delivered in the course of a trial. Monies paid to file court proceedings, fines paid for legal violations, and court costs associated with bringing charges all involve money owed to the judicial system. Notification of such court charges varies.


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