The indictment is the formal accusation of felony offense(s) issued by the grand jury. The indictment essentially states that there is sufficient evidence that a felony offense(s) has been committed. The indictment results in a formal criminal complaint being issued against the defendant.
Indictment Begins Criminal Process
The indictment sets the felony criminal process in motion. The prosecutor presents all the charges against the defendant to the grand jury. The charges are separated out into counts and have descriptions of each individual offense, such as where, when, and how the defendant allegedly committed the felony offense.
The indictment is issued if the grand jury members believe that there is sufficient evidence that the criminal acts alleged by the prosecutor are likely to have occurred. This is a pretty low burden so indictments are typically issued following the grand jury. In fact, the burden is so low that it has been said that, “you could indict a ham sandwich.”
Criminal Complaint and Arrest Warrant
Upon the issuance of an indictment criminal complaint is filed and an arrest warrant is generally issued for the defendant. This will begin the criminal court processes beginning with the first appearance and arraignment.
Sometimes an indictment can be sealed and the charges are unknown to the defendant. The indictment will remain sealed until the defendant is in custody. The decision to seal an indictment is a judges decision. Depending upon the nature and seriousness of the charges, the defendant may be able to arrange for surrender to the police and the posting of bail without the necessity of an arrest.
Purpose of the Indictment
An indictment’s function within the court system is to try and prevent frivolous charges by requiring the prosecutor to convince the grand jury before the indictment is granted. In a way the indictment is the people of a community saying that the prosecutor has enough evidence to bring formal charges.
On the other hand, the burden is extremely low so that innocent people are routinely indicted and charged. There are some early though limited steps that an attorney can take to avoid an indictment. Though limited, these steps should be taken. In the right case, these steps can avoid criminal charges completely.
An Attorney Can Help!
The grand jury and indictment process can be confusing. It is important that you understand the process and your legal rights throughout that process. There may be things an experienced criminal defense attorney can do to help your defense at these early stages of the criminal process.
It is important to seek legal counsel immediately if you are aware of an indictment or target letter. Failure to take immediate action may result in unnecessary and possibly avoidable jail time.