Yes, you can. But to “press charges” against someone in prison is more complicated that you might think.
A criminal conviction can change many things in your life. You can lose your physical freedom, the right to vote and many other rights and privileges. But the law still protects you from harm, even while you’re in prison.
Someone may violate your rights while you are in prison. This could be through violence, through threats or in many other ways. So, you might be wondering, Can I press charges on someone if I am currently in prison? The answer to that question depends on several factors that we will explain.
What does it mean to press charges?
First, let’s look at what it means to “press charges” against someone. To be clear, it is the government that charges people with crimes. That is not up to individuals, even if they are victims of a crime.
Usually, when people refer to “pressing charges,” they mean filing a criminal complaint. This complaint isn’t enough on its own to bring charges against a person. But these complaints can prompt action from authorities. Prosecutors also use these complaints when they build a case against a person.
Can you press charges even if you are in prison?
In short, yes. You can press charges on someone if you are in prison. You can also press charges if you are currently awaiting trial or waiting for sentencing.
The reason is simple. Our legal protections do not disappear after a criminal conviction. More simply: You may be in prison, but you still have rights.
The Supreme Court has ruled over and over that prisoners have a right to use the court system. It doesn’t stop there. Prisons also must give you “meaningful” access to the courts. That means they must provide you with access to legal resources to help you with your case. This allows you to pursue legal cases beyond filing a criminal complaint.
Are there any exceptions?
You are always allowed to press charges. But, if you’re in prison, the procedure may be a little different.
For example, let’s say you want to press charges against someone involved in a pending case against you. It could be another person, maybe one of the arresting officers. You can still press charges at any time. But courts can issue a “stay” on those charges until a court resolves your case.
Even after a court resolves your case, though, your rights do not end. Even if convicted, you can always “press charges” on someone, even in prison. Just because you are in prison does not mean others can harm you or violate your rights.
You should also know that you likely won’t get an appointed attorney for these matters. While courts may appoint you an attorney to defend you, they usually don’t have to for other matters. The appointed attorney from your criminal case doesn’t have to represent you either.
It is the government, not individuals, who have the ability to “press charges” against someone. But you do have the right to seek criminal charges or file a lawsuit against someone else from prison. That process is much more complicated from prison.