An indictment follows the decision reached by the grand jury discussed in Step Two of this series. A formal indictment is simply another step in the procedure of the federal criminal justice process and does not bear any weight on whether you are guilty or innocent of a crime.
An Indictment is a written formal accusatory document against a person who is no longer merely being suspected of a crime. At this point the prosecution believes that there is sufficient evidence against a person to charge them with a felony. The right to be indicted is embodied in the 5thAmendment of the Constitution which states:
“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…” USCS Const. Amend. 5
Many people believe that a formal indictment is evidence of guilt, but it is important to remember the grand jury is not asked to answer the ultimate question of guiltyor not guilty. Instead, grand jurors must agree that the criminal case should go forward and that there is probable cause to believe that the alleged crime occurred. The prosecution is not required to meet the high burdens of proof that are required to actually be convicted. Some evidence provided during a grand jury hearing may not even ultimately be admissible at trial. The grand jury meets privately and is subject to very strict rules of confidentiality. Many people are surprised to learn that, incredibly, defense counsel is not even permitted in the grand jury room to tell the target’s side of the story or to protect the target’s rights. In a grand jury proceeding, the grand jury hears the prosecutor’s version of events only.
A formal indictment outlines the crimes for which you are being accused. At this stage it is critical to have a criminal defense attorney review the indictment to understand the exact crimes that you are facing in order to develop a strategy for defense. As always, if you have additional questions about an indictment or if you have, unfortunately, been indicted, feel free to contact us!
Tune in next week for Step 4, the arraignment!
Best for now,
McKensey Brock, Paralegal.