Instant Court Case Lookup

The following is for information purposes only


What is an Indictment?

A grand jury indictment is a certified charge or accusation that someone has committed a serious crime. After a grand jury investigation, the courts file an indictment.

In jurisdictions that use the notion of felonies, that is the most serious criminal offense. Jurisdictions that do not use the felonies notion often use that of an indictable offense, which requires a criminal indictment.

Who Decides Whether to Indict?

If most grand jurors agree that probable cause exists, they vote to indict. If the jury decides the evidence doesn't support the charges, no indictment results, and the matter is dropped.

A grand jury decides whether the state has enough evidence to charge someone with a crime in all but two states. They decide whether there's enough proof on hand to show that a person committed a serious crime.

What Happens When Someone Receives an Indictment?

When a person receives an indictment, they receive formal notice that the court believes they committed a crime. This document contains the basic information that informs the person of the charges against them.

The prosecutor decides whether to present the case to the grand jury. They study the indictment and information from investigators and police officers. In addition, they would speak to the individuals involved.

What Proof is Necessary to Indict?

A prosecutor must introduce evidence to a grand jury to obtain an indictment. Grand jury proceedings are confidential and one-sided, with only the prosecutor delivering the case.

The grand jury evaluates the evidence to determine whether it's likely that the accused committed the crime. There are four different types of evidence, these include:

  • Real evidence is also known as physical evidence. This includes fingerprints, bullet casings, motor vehicle parts, weapons, and DNA samples.
  • Demonstrative evidence can help law enforcement illustrate the testimony of a witness. This includes maps of the crime scene, charts, and pictures of the location.
  • Documentary evidence includes oral witness accounts, diary entries, newspapers, or contracts.
  • Witness Testimony describes when a witness gets on the stand and says what they saw or heard under oath.

Does an Indictment Portray Guilt?

An indictment does not mean that a person has been found guilty of a crime. What it does mean is that there is probable cause to charge them.

Probable cause means having reasonable grounds (more than a 50% chance ) to believe someone has committed an offense. It does not mean that a conviction is likely to follow.

In the subsequent trial, the standard is higher. The state must convince a jury that there is a greater than 99% chance the accused committed the crime.

How Exactly Does an Indictment Work?

There are a few steps to indicting an individual.

  • An assistant U.S. attorney appears before a grand jury on behalf of the federal government to establish probable cause that a particular person committed a federal felony. This takes place in a supreme court.
  • They call witnesses and present evidence procured with grand jury subpoenas. However, defense attorneys may not appear before the grand jury. The accused individual does not need to testify before the grand jury, and the discussions between the grand jury remain a secret.
  • If a grand jury agrees that the evidence handed over establishes probable cause, they can issue an indictment against the accused individual. There must be at least 16 of the 23 members of the jury, and at least 12 jurors must vote for a charge.
  • If the grand jury does not find adequate probable cause, they will return a No Bill, otherwise known as a bill of indictment or a federal indictment. If the accused has waived the charge and has agreed to plead guilty in a misdemeanor or felony case, the court will not bring the matter to the federal grand jury. After this presentment, the court schedules an arraignment.
  • The U.S. District Court files a document outlining probable cause in those instances.

What Happens After Indictment?

An indictment is a notice of the criminal charges against an individual. After a grand jury indicts an individual, they return the indictment to the court, and the criminal case starts. If the suspect isn't already in custody, the defendant will be arrested or summoned to appear in court for the preliminary hearings.

The case then proceeds to trial at a set time, which can vary depending on the jurisdiction. The period is 70 days in federal court, but different states have different timelines. The trial happens within that time frame unless the defendant waives their right to a speedy trial or accepts a plea deal.

In a federal criminal case, an indictment, information, and a complaint serve the same function. These initiate a criminal case and notify the defendant of the charges against them. They also ensure that a prosecutor has enough evidence to demonstrate probable cause that a crime has taken place.

Suppose a grand jury agrees that there is sufficient cause for the prosecution to continue. In that case, they issue an indictment that describes the criminal charges against an individual and the factual basis for those charges.

Can an Indictment Be Avoided?

The accused has the option of avoiding indictment and proceeding directly to a plea bargain. The prosecutor drafts an accusation that recites the charges against the accused.

The defendant generally proceeds by way of accusation rather than indictment, and the prosecution makes a favorable plea offer. This offer is typically in the defendant's best interest to accept, to avoid harsher charges.

Can An Indictment Be Dismissed?

It is possible to have an indictment dismissed. There are five possible reasons as to how this could happen. These include:

  • Insufficient evidence
  • Fourth amendment violations
  • Procedural issues
  • Lack of resources
  • Willingness to cooperate