In legal terminology, a complaint is a formal legal document that sets out the facts and legal reasons (see: cause of action) that the filing party or parties (the plaintiff[s] beliefs are sufficient to support a claim against the party or parties against whom the claim is brought [the defendant(s) that entitle(s) the plaintiff(s) to a remedy (either money damages or injunctive relief)]). For example, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) that govern civil litigation in United States courts provide that a civil action is commenced with the filing or service of a pleading called a complaint. Civil court rules in states that have incorporated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure use the same term for the same pleading.
In some jurisdictions, specific types of criminal cases may also be commenced by the filing of a complaint, also sometimes called a criminal complaint or felony complaint. All criminal cases are prosecuted in the name of the governmental authority that promulgates criminal statutes and enforces the police power of the state with the goal of seeking criminal sanctions, such as the State (also sometimes called the People) or Crown (in Commonwealth realms). In the United States, the complaint is often associated with misdemeanor criminal charges presented by the prosecutor without the grand jury process. In most U.S. jurisdictions, the charging instrument presented to and authorized by a grand jury is referred to as an indictment.
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