Many people have heard the word "indictment" in the news but perhaps they've never known anyone who was actually "indicted". This legal term is part of the criminal justice process that deals with those accused of a felony and not all those who commit crimes end experiencing an indictment. Read on for some help in clearing up the confusion about indictments.
The Grand Jury
The only way to indict someone is by using a grand jury. Grand jury proceedings take place all over the country in all states. In some places, the grand jury is convened for only a few weeks at a time and many cases are heard during that time. A grand jury is made up from the jury pool – the same pool that supplies juries for all proceedings. The same group of citizens presides over several cases during their time in the jury. The main purpose of the grand jury is to either indict someone for a crime or to abstain from an indictment. While indictments are important, the prosecutor's office is under no obligation to abide by the indictment. They can either prosecute someone who failed to be indicted or to not prosecute someone who was indicted. In most cases, however, the prosecutor follows the edict of the grand jury.
What is an Indictment?
Far from being a meaningless practice, convening a grand jury of citizens to make decisions about a legal proceeding should be viewed as a form of protection against an unwarranted charge. Those whose fate is being discussed during a grand jury hearing are accused of committing serious crimes. A felony can bring harsh punishments indeed, so the grand jury is charged with deciding whether or not the accused should stand trial for a crime.
What Happens During a Grand Jury Indictment?
Grand jury hearings are never open to the public and the defendant is often not present (rarely, they are present) during the proceedings. The jury listens as the prosecutor explains the case and they view the evidence gathered. They are empowered with the ability to call witnesses if necessary. Additionally, the evidence presented and the statements made by the prosecutor are given far more latitude than they would in a normal court hearing. Grand jury affairs are one-sided since the defendant has no legal representation present. If the grand jury decides that there is enough evidence to prosecute the accused, they hand down what is known as a "true bill". Given the odds, most of the time grand juries vote to indict the defendant.
To learn more about indictments, speak to your criminal defense attorney.