What Does It Mean To Be Indicted?

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, no person can be put on trial for a capital or infamous crime without first having been indicted by a grand jury. Although people may have come across the term indictment by watching television shows or reading the news about criminal cases, they may not know what the process actually entails.

An indictment is mainly used in federal crimes cases to file formal charges against a person. Although some states may have adopted this process, it is not required to prosecute state-level felonies. For those types of offenses, the prosecutor files a complaint with the court and a judge hears the evidence to determine whether or not charges can be filed and the case can move forward to trial.

Juror Selection

For serious felony offenses, a grand jury will be selected to hear the prosecutor’s evidence against an individual. Like other juror selection processes, grand juries are assembled from a pool of local citizens.

Private Cases

Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public, and the defendant typically does not have to be present to defend themselves. If they are in the court, they cannot have their defense attorney present. During the indictment process, the grand jury will only hear from the prosecutor. They will consider eyewitness testimony and other physical evidence to determine whether or not the accused should be formally charged.

Obtaining an Indictment

Generally, getting an indictment is not difficult, as a prosecutor will not bring their case forward until they believe they have enough evidence to be granted the indictment. Additionally, the standard of proof is much lower and evidence that could be thrown out during a criminal trial – such as hearsay – is often allowed during the grand jury hearing.

Unlike a typical criminal case where juries make a verdict of guilt or innocence, in a grand jury proceeding, jurors are there to determine whether or not the prosecutor has probable cause to file formal charges. They also do not have to come to a unanimous decision; there only needs to be a majority vote in the panel of 16 to 23 members.

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