A felony indictment formally accuses someone of a crime. The indictment trial also allows the defense to build up a case against the prosecutor. The indictment gets read before a judge in a court. It is the first time a defendant will know exactly what they are being charged for.
In most cases this happens after an arrest happens. The indictment must be voted on by a Grand Jury. It is the Grand Jury’s job to determine if there is enough evidence to prove probable cause.
The prosecutor requests a felony indictment against the accused. They do this when they believe that there is enough evidence to prove someone is guilty. There are different types of indictments and different types of criminal charges.
The Felony Indictment Process
The process to get indicted starts with someone committing a crime. A police officer sees you doing something, and you get arrested. Now, because a cop saw you do something doesn’t mean you are guilty of that crime. You have to go through a judicial process and getting indicted of a felony is part of that process.
The police officer arrested you with probable cause. Though the officer may be a witness to the crime you committed and can testify against you.
Once placed in jail, the prosecutor will review your case. In the meantime there isn’t much you can do.
It is their job to get as much evidence as possible against you. They want to prove that you committed the crime.
A felony indictment is one step in the judicial process. Yes, it is a formal document and it sentences you, but it is also more than that. The indictment process protects you from the police jailing you unlawfully.
To get an indictment, a Grand Jury must approve the evidence of the case.
This evidence for the case can come from many sources: police reports, eye witnesses, security camera footage, etc. The “burden of proof” refers to the amount of evidence someone needs against someone. In every court there is a standard to how high the burden of proof is.
Generally, the evidence should be enough to show a “reasonable person” that you did commit a crime. For getting an indictment, the burden of proof standard is lower than an in a criminal trial.
First, the prosecutor collects all the evidence. Then they make the decision to pursue an indictment. A Grand Jury will have to meet to determine if there is probable cause that you committed the crime. During this trial it is only the prosecutor and any eye witnesses that are with the Grand Jury.
The prosecutor will often show only very strong pieces of evidence. They also do not have to mention every detail of a case. Unlike a criminal trial there will not be a defense part. It is only the prosecutor talking. You will also not be present.
Depending on where you are, there is a chance that you could sit in on the trial. If you are able to sit in, you wouldn’t be able to do or say anything in your defense.
There are only two outcomes from a grand jury, either a “true bill” or a “no bill”. In the event of a true bill, a Grand Jury has found enough evidence to prove that there is probable cause. Keep in mind this jury does not determine guilt or sentence you, they are there for probable cause.
If the Grand Jury decides that there is not enough evidence, then they will pass a “no bill”. Despite not enough evidence being present, this does not always mean you are free to go.
A prosecutor has the opportunity to go and look for more evidence against you. Additionally, they can show this evidence to a new grand jury or the same one a second time.
There are a few differences between a grand jury and a petit jury. A grand jury will hold about 16-23 members while a petit jury will hold around 12 members.
A grand jury’s main purpose is to listen to the evidence presented to them and agree if there is probable cause. To make a decision there needs to be a majority vote.
A petit jury will meet to determine if the defendant is actually guilty or not. They have to be in complete agreement.
There haven’t been many examples where a grand jury passed a no bill. A grand jury will see many cases in a day. The burden of proof is low and the prosecutor controls what information to show to the jury.
Different Types of Indictments
For a felony indictment someone has already been arrested. A police officer caught somebody doing something bad, and they are now locked up. Before any trial can start, an indictment gets issued after a grand jury reviews the case. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees this.
Sometimes, an indictment can get granted before someone gets arrested. This is a sealed indictment. A sealed indictment occurs without the knowledge of the accused person. If a sealed indictment gets approved, the accused will get arrested. This time they will proceed straight to a criminal trial to determine guilt.
There also may be special cases where the police need to make an arrest quickly. They would use a sealed indictment for this. There are other types of formal charges that can get approved much quicker.
Criminal complaints and criminal information work the same way as a criminal indictment. All these let a defendant know the specific charges that are against them. But a criminal complaint and criminal information can get approved quicker.
If a criminal complaint or information gets placed against you, you will go to jail. But you will still need to get an indictment before proceeding to a trial.
Criminal complaints must be sworn under oath. Usually a police officer does this. Once again the goal with a complaint is to establish probable cause.
In a criminal information, a judge determines probable cause. The judge can also authorize the arrest of someone.
You do have the right to skip the indictment process if you would like. The indictment process is protected under the Fifth Amendment and it is your right to pass if you would like to. People may do this sometimes if they readily admit to being guilty.
All Summed Up
A felony indictment accuses someone of committing a crime.
It comes after a long process of gathering evidence and bringing a Grand Jury together. An indictment is a part of the judicial system and your Fifth Amendment rights protect it.
An indictment doesn’t determine guilt, but probable cause. The criminal trial with a petit jury determines guilt.
You have a right to skip the indictment trial if you would like.