I'm listening to today's "Democracy Now" (6July2022) and apropos the Highland Park mass shooting, it shows a spokesman for the sheriff's office stating:

[The shooter] said he was going to kill everyone and ... police removed 16 knives, a dagger and a sword...
There was no probable cause to arrest. There were no complaints that were signed by any of the victims.

What does this part mean? I've made police reports, including for battery, and I've never been informed of or given an opportunity to sign anything. What is the import of and procedure for signed complaints? Interested in the law in the US, and in IL and CA in particular.)

  • I still wonder: What is the import of a victim's "written and signed report"? If the police aren't taking a complaint (e.g. of robbery) seriously (e.g. didn't speak to the accused), would a "written and signed report" by the victim be likely to make a difference? Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 10:41

1 Answer 1


In my opinion, the news report is mischaracterizing the situation, either because the person who provided the information was confused or sloppy, or because the reporter was confused (it is impossible to tell on its face).

Probable cause to arrest can, and often does, arise from an oral statement of a witness to a police officer, even if a witness refuses to back their oral statement to a police officer with a written one.

And, in the narrow and strict sense, a complaint is a court document, usually signed by a prosecutor, commencing criminal legal proceedings against a criminal defendant (in lieu of an indictment, or pending the issuance of an indictment). A complaint in this narrow and strict sense would not usually be signed by an ordinary citizen witness to a crime.

Sometimes, however, the word "complaint" is used in a broader, non-technical sense to refer either to any report made to police complaining about misconduct by someone, or in a different technical sense to refer to a written and signed report made by a witness to the police.

It is likely that what really happened is that after receiving an oral report that the individual had threatened people, none of the witnesses who provided this oral report was willing to sign a document summarizing their oral report of being threatened for the police (perhaps out of fear of retaliation by the accused person, or out of a desire not to harm the accused person's long term future prospects).

Then, the police department, as a matter of department policy (rather than any requirement imposed by law), declined to pursue a criminal case based upon the threats, when no one was willing to publicly and in writing commit to their oral reports, because they would need a testifying witness in a later court case.

  • 2
    OTOH there's a campus police in IL that is just as "confused" luc.edu/safety/signing_complaints_pressing_charges.html "Signing a complaint is what most people refer to as "pressing charges." This means that you have been the victim of a crime and that you agree you want the person arrested for their actions and that you also agree to appear in court against the person. If you do not sign complaints, the offender will most likely be released on the spot." Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 11:54
  • Thanks, I appreciate the answer. Makes sense. Nits: Refuses to "back", you mean? The video shows the spokesperson providing the info, so your first paragraph is off. But Fizz's argument does too. Hmm. I guess one could survey folks who have been victims of violence and sought police involvement... Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 18:44
  • @WHO'sNoToOldRx4CovidIsMurder I'm rarely in a situation where I can view video.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 18:57
  • 1
    I was listening to it as a podcast when I heard the relevant snippet. It's 71 seconds into the stream; my link starts the streaming there (or 60 sec in for context). (Anyway, the point of mentioning the nits was to spur improvement of the answer for others who view it after me.) Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 23:51
  • I submitted an edit. Also I noticed that if one searches the stack exchange for “pressing charges”, a lot of info comes up that answers the question indirectly. Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 23:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .