How does a criminal case normally get filed? First of all, you will be arrested and a police report is completed. The prosecutor for the jurisdiction in which you are arrested will study the police report to determine if you should be charged with a crime.
However, in some state and federal cases, the prosecutor will go to a grand jury and ask them if criminal charges should be filed against you. This is called an indictment. After that, there is a preliminary hearing by the judge on the case to determine if there is sufficient evidence that a crime occurred.
How a Grand Jury Works
If you want to understand exactly what an indictment is, you first must understand what the grand jury is and what it does. A grand jury has similarities with a regular jury. However, the grand jury does not determine if you are innocent or guilty; rather, it simply determines if criminal charges should be filed and whether you should be indicted for a crime.
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A grand jury is made up of regular citizens from the community who are charged with determining if there was criminal activity in the case or not. In a federal case, if the prosecutor thinks that you have committed a felony that could get you more than one year in prison, he must get the grand jury’s permission to proceed with the case. This helps to prevent an overly aggressive prosecutor from harassing an innocent person with baseless charges.
The prosecutor will present his evidence to the grand jury, and the grand jury will render its verdict about whether or not you should be indicted. Below are some of the differences between a grand jury and a regular jury:
- A grand jury’s role is to decide if you should be indicted, while the jury decides if you are innocent or guilty.
- Grand juries usually have more members than the regular jury. Some grand juries can have up to 23 members, while a regular jury will have 6-12.
- Grand juries do not need to have a unanimous decision to indict; they only must have a simple majority in most cases.
- Grand juries meet in private, while a regular jury is in a public trial.
Note that if you are called to testify before the grand jury, you will not have your attorney present. You have to answer every question without legal counsel there. However, you may leave the appearance and consult with your attorney outside the room.
After the prosecutor has presented all of his evidence, the jury will decide if there is probable cause to indict you, which results in an official document being issued. Remember that the indictment is just a charging document; showing that there is probable cause is much different than being found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard in a criminal trial.
How the Grand Jury and Indictment Process Works
A grand jury does much of its tasks in private. What this means is that as a potential defendant, you are not present during its proceedings. Your lawyers are not, either. The prosecutor will give what is called a bill of charges, and then will present his evidence. This will probably include witnesses, who will testify in order to bring a possible indictment.
While the grand jury proceedings are secret, transcripts can be ordered afterwards. Prosecutors are fond of grand juries; they are a sort of test trial for the case and allow the prosecutor to observe how the jury reacts to evidence.
If the grand jury decides to indict you based upon the available evidence, this is known as a ‘true bill.’ If the grand jury does not indict you, it will return what is called a ‘no bil’. However, if the grand jury declines to indict you, the prosecutor may come back to the same jury and offer more evidence, which could result in criminal charges being filed.
Types of Grand Juries
In the federal system, there are two sorts of grand juries. The first is the regular grand jury as described above which decides whether or not to indict you. Another type of grand jury is known as a special grand jury, which can investigate if organized crime of some kind is happening in the community.
A special grand jury may investigate if there is organized drug activity in the area, for example.
On the other hand, many states have primarily indicting grand jury. However, more states also are empowering grand juries to investigate organized crime as well, as especially drug crimes.
The indictment process is a very important part of the prosecution of state and federal crimes. Anyone who is facing a potential indictment should speak to an experienced attorney in the state and federal indictment process. The easiest way to beat a potential criminal case is to get it dismissed before an indictment occurs.