What does it mean when asked if you were formally charged?

A charge is a formal accusation of a crime, usually brought by a criminal complaints, indictments, or an information against you. If the charges were brought by an indictment, then you are well aware that you have been charged. A criminal complaint can be filed by the a police officer or a member of general public. Thus, if there has been a criminal complaint filed against you or an official court document, then you have been “formally charged”. But it is best for you or your attorney to call the District Attorney’s office or the court clerk and ask if charges have been filed against you.