What Is a Criminal Indictment?
You’ve heard the word indictment many times on your favorite crime show, the news, or even from a lawyer you happen to be friends with, but what is an indictment? An indictment is defined as a formal accusation against someone that possibly committed a crime and there is a brief portion of the US Constitution that explains a little more about it. “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger …” US Constitution Amendment V. But, as this doesn’t extend to the states, it is typically only guaranteed in federal court, while states don’t have to have a grand jury hearing. An indictment can also happen even before someone is arrested, and usually happens through several witnesses’ testimony against the defendant.
There are two different accusations, one of which is an indictment and the other is an information. Indictments are usually only used in federal court, while the state government will usually prosecute through information, which works by filing through the courts.
In an indictment, a person is suspected of a crime and prosecution will attempt to prove that there is enough evidence to move from a grand jury indictment to a regular trial. An indictment does not mean that you are under arrest, but simply suggests that there may have been a crime committed that warrants looking into by the federal government. But, with an indictment comes a grand jury hearing.
Grand jury hearings are typically very different from traditional trials or hearings for many different reasons. For one, grand jury hearings are closed to the public and the grand jury only hears from the prosecutor and any witnesses they decide to bring to the stand. In federal court, a US Attorney tries to show the grand jury that there’s enough evidence against the defendant for an indictment and should be taken to court and prosecuted. Typically this is effective simply because there is no defense in a grand jury. This means that grand juries will usually vote to indict defendants more often than not. But what is a grand jury?
A grand jury usually comes from the same pool as regular juries, but grand juries are used for much longer than regular juries. Though regular juries are usually only around for one trial, grand juries are used for much longer, sworn in for 18 months at a time despite the fact that they are only used about one day a week. Grand juries typically have 23 members, though they can also only have 16. In both cases, 12 members of the jury must believe that the prosecutor has presented enough evidence to warrant a criminal case, thus warranting an indictment for the defendant of the case.
If a jury decides there is enough evidence by having a majority vote, they will return a true bill and the prosecutor will then be able to pursue the course through a trial against the defendant. Though this does mean the jury believes there is enough evidence to pursue a case, this doesn’t mean that the defendant is guilty.
Most often, grand juries are typically used for felonies (more serious crimes like murders, bank robberies, or drug cases) rather than the lesser misdemeanors that will typically end with a fine or a short imprisonment.
If you are curious about criminal indictments or are facing a criminal indictment, be sure to call a criminal defense attorney in Pasadena for more information about what you need to do.