Being indicted can be a confusing and scary experience. Many people hear the term “indicted” thrown around in news reports or crime shows but don’t fully understand what it means. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of what it means to be indicted, how the indictment process works, and what happens after someone is indicted.
What is an Indictment?
An indictment is a formal criminal charge made by a grand jury against an individual or corporation, accusing them of committing a crime. The indictment is the first step in a criminal case, informing the accused that they are now formally charged with a specific offense.
The purpose of an indictment is to compel an accused person to face trial for alleged misconduct. It outlines the charges against them so they can prepare an appropriate response and defense.
How Does the Indictment Process Work?
Here are the key steps that lead to an indictment:
- Investigation – Police investigate an allegation of wrongdoing, or a grand jury investigates based on a prosecutor’s request. They gather evidence to determine if a crime was committed.
- Grand Jury Review – A grand jury reviews the evidence. A grand jury is a panel of citizens who decide if enough evidence of a crime exists to charge the accused.
- Filing of Indictment – If the evidence seems sufficient, the grand jury will draft and vote on an indictment charging the accused party with a specific crime. Once finalized, the accusation is filed with the court.
- Arrest – The accused will be arrested if they are not already in custody.
- Arraignment – The accused is brought before a judge, informed of charges against them, and asked to enter a plea.
So, in summary, an investigation occurs first. If there is enough incriminating evidence, a grand jury will draft and file formal charges via an indictment. The indictment leads to arrest and arraignment.
What Does it Mean to Be Indicted?
To be indicted means that you have been formally accused and charged with a crime. However, it does not mean you are guilty or will be convicted. An indictment is simply the start of legal proceedings.
Being indicted lets you know that:
- There is probable cause you committed a crime, meaning enough evidence exists to proceed with charges.
- You must appear in court to respond to accusations.
- You now face an impending criminal trial.
- Your freedom may be restricted before trial through bail conditions or pretrial detention if the crime is serious.
So, in essence, an indictment is like a doorway into the criminal justice system. Passing through that doorway begins your journey toward prosecution and trial. It marks you as the accused party in a criminal case.
What Kinds of Crimes Can Lead to an Indictment?
Many types of crimes can warrant an indictment, including:
- Violent crimes – murder, assault, rape, robbery
- Property crimes – burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, arson
- Sex crimes – solicitation, lewd acts, statutory rape
- Drug crimes – possession, distribution, trafficking
- White collar crimes – embezzlement, fraud, money laundering
- Cybercrimes – hacking, identity theft, computer viruses
- Organized crime – racketeering, corruption, conspiracy
- Treason, terrorism, human rights violations
Any criminal offense punishable by law can lead to an indictment if sufficient evidence is gathered. Even sitting presidents can face charge once out of office.
What Happens After You Are Indicted?
Once indicted, here’s what you can expect as your case moves forward:
1. Pretrial Release Hearing
Shortly after the indictment, a pretrial release hearing will be held. This is where bail terms, conditions of release, and preliminary dates may be established.
At your arraignment, charges will be read, and you will enter a formal plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. You may also assert additional rights.
Your legal counsel will be entitled to view all evidence being used against you through a discovery process before trial. This allows time to build a defense.
4. Pretrial Motions
Your attorney may raise objections, request evidence suppression or dismissals via pretrial motions to the court. Judges rule on these motions.
5. Plea Deal Negotiations
Before going to trial, parties can negotiate to reach a plea deal or bargain. This usually involves pleading guilty in return for lesser charges or a lighter sentence.
6. Criminal Trial
If no plea deal is reached, a trial proceeds where both sides present evidence and arguments to either establish guilt or innocence. The verdict at trial determines the outcome.
If found guilty at trial, a separate sentencing phase will occur where penalties are imposed. The sentence reflects factors like crime severity and criminal history.
So post-indictment, one goes through an extensive process before final judgment and sentencing to resolve the charges.
Key Takeaways About Indictment
- An indictment is a formal criminal accusation charging someone with a crime.
- It does not equate to guilt but commences the legal process moving toward prosecution.
- A grand jury files an indictment if evidence seems sufficient to hold a trial.
- Once indicted, an accused will be arrested, prosecuted, can negotiate pleas, and either go to trial or reach a plea deal.
- Many serious crimes can warrant indictment, not just significant felonies.
- It’s the first step on the path through the criminal justice system toward resolution of charges.
Being indicted marks a significant turning point where you need expert legal guidance. Never take an indictment lightly. Consult with a criminal defense attorney immediately if facing formal charges to protect your rights.
Frequently Asked Questions About Indictment
1. What is the difference between being charged and indicted?
Being charged means a prosecutor has filed charges against you, while being indicted means a grand jury has determined sufficient evidence for charges to proceed to trial. An indictment is a more intensive formal charging process.
2. Who decides to indict someone?
The decision to indict lies with a grand jury – a panel of citizens who weigh evidence to decide if it’s adequate for prosecution. Prosecutors can present evidence and recommend indictment, but the grand jury votes.
3. Can you be indicted twice for the same crime?
The Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause prevents individuals from being prosecuted twice for the same crime. So generally, a person cannot be indicted twice for the same offense after acquittal or conviction.
4. Do you have to go to trial if indicted?
No, the indictment does not always lead directly to trial. Many cases end with plea bargains which avoid the practice. You can plead guilty in return for lesser charges or a reduced sentence. However, rejecting pleas means proceeding to trial.
5. Can an indictment be dismissed?
Yes, in some circumstances, an indictment can be dismissed. For example, if the evidence is insufficient, an invalid grand jury is convened, or the charge contains a significant error or needs more specifics. Judges may dismiss indictments with or without prejudice under certain conditions.