An indictment is a final step in the evidence-gathering process before a person appears for trial for a serious crime, especially a felony. In the US, such charges get framed by a grand jury. But what happens after an indictment? What defenses are available?
What is an indictment?
An indictment is a formal charge against someone suspected of having committed a serious crime, filed after a grand jury investigation has concluded.
To best understand an indictment and its filing process, it is helpful to demonstrate with an example.
Let’s say a woman gets suspected of murder. Before she gets arrested, police conduct an investigation and start gathering evidence. Once police and prosecutors believe they have enough evidence against the woman, they will present that evidence to a grand jury.
A grand jury is an assembly of citizens that evaluates the evidence and decides whether an indictment is warranted.
In this case, a grand jury will determine whether there is enough evidence to arrest the woman. Once she gets arrested, she waits for a short time in jail until she appears before a judge. At this point, the formal charges she faces are being read aloud to her in court, which is a criminal complaint.
How does an indictment happen?
The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution instructs the federal government to request a grand jury indictment to prosecute someone for a serious or “otherwise infamous” crime. As it comes by a grand jury but, usually before an arrest, it can be “sealed” for any time necessary to prevent the defendant or other suspects from fleeing, destroying evidence, or escaping justice.
When suspects get charged with less serious crimes (such as misdemeanors or lower-level felonies), the process usually begins with a criminal complaint by a prosecutor, often after an arrest only if there is probable cause to charge. Some courts use preliminary hearings to determine probable cause for more serious criminal charges instead of grand juries, where judges decide whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial.
In contrast, a grand jury indictment comes from witness statements or physical evidence analyzed by a grand jury of local citizens. A grand jury’s role is to decide whether there is probable cause (not guilt) for a criminal charge, which generally carries much more weight than a simple criminal complaint. Grand juries are convened in secret and usually do not include a judge or defense attorney.
What happens after an indictment?
A federal criminal indictment marks the end of one process and the beginning of another. The government’s investigation is over, and the focus now shifts to preparing for and winning in court.
The key to minimizing a defendant’s risk post-charge is to have a clear and comprehensive understanding of all the available options and to take advantage of those options and opportunities to the fullest extent possible.
Probable outcomes after an indictment are:
Dismissal from preliminary proceedings
Judges tend not to guess a grand jury trial at this stage; as a result, successful challenges to the charges come based on procedural issues rather than the substance of the charges framed. For example, a conviction secured by prosecutorial misconduct may be ripe for a reversal at the pretrial, as the conviction gets secured from a charge barred by the applicable statute of limitations.
A plea deal also involves the uncertainty of a trial, but there are consequences to accepting a plea. The stringency of these consequences relies on several factors, including (but not limited to) the evidence available to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the negotiation skills of the defense attorney.
If the likelihood of a trial leading to an adverse verdict is relatively high, negotiating a plea agreement may be the most desirable option available.
The “guilty” verdict
If your case proceeds to trial, there is always a risk that you will be found guilty. That is true regardless of the truth and how well the evidence is in your favor. Many federal prosecutors are very qualified at what they do, and jurors are easy to persuade. That makes viable defense strategies available so that a “guilty” verdict is not guaranteed when your trial begins.
If the Jury decides that the prosecutors have proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt, they will return a verdict of “guilty.” After the Jury yields a “guilty” verdict, the defendant’s case will proceed to sentence.
“Not guilty” verdict
When federal criminal matters go to trial, the outcome gets generally determined by a jury verdict (except in a misdemeanor case, as discussed below). If the Jury decides that the prosecutors have not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt, their only option is to return a “not guilty” verdict. In an appropriate case, the judge can also issue a direct judgment in favor of the defendant.
If your matter goes to trial, the judge will get forced to declare a mistrial. That occurs when the jury members cannot reach a unanimous decision at their discretion. If the judge finds wrongdoing, the Department of Justice may decide to re-examine your case or drop the charges against you. A plea agreement is possible at this stage.
What to do if you get indicted?
In case you get accused, the Jury has reason to believe that you are a suspect or “person of interest” in a crime. You certainly will want to work with a professional criminal defense attorney.
An indictment usually means a good reason for the accusation; however, there are cases where prosecutors charge them for being weak. In any case, it is always better to have a lawyer to help you through the process. So a lawyer can help navigate the process or even avoid it altogether in some cases.
After some argument, charges get dropped after an indictment, which occurs when a grand jury convenes to consider an indictment. Based on the indictment, the case is determined not to be strong enough. The Grand Jury may then dismiss or “no-charge” that indictment, or it may get a dismissal by the prosecutor.
Defenses available for indictment
There are several strategies for avoiding charges in federal criminal cases. However, the system used in a particular case depends on specific legal and factual issues.
If efforts to avoid prosecution are unsuccessful, then the focus must immediately shift to defending against the charges brought – and the defendant must evaluate all available grounds for seeking a pretrial release while considering the desirability of entering into a plea agreement while simultaneously preparing for the possibility of a trial.
Filing a motion for quashing a grand jury
One of the first options considered when faced with a potential indictment is whether the target has cause to file a motion to quash the grand jury subpoena. There are several possible reasons for filing a petition for annulment, including:
- Procedural deficiencies
- Requests for irrelevant information
- Requests for information already held by the government
- Requests for information not in the custody or control of the target
- Overbroad or unreasonably burdensome requirements
- Unreasonably intrusive and oppressive demands
- Vague and vague requirements
Filing a motion for dismissal of the indictment
There are various reasons for filing a motion to dismiss a federal grand jury indictment. If there are grounds contesting that, charges may be the most effective and efficient way to avoid conviction under the law. Possible reasons for filing a motion to dismiss a federal grand jury indictment include:
- Grand Jury Bias or Prejudice
- Prejudicial publicity
- Over-reliance on hearsay
- Failure to disclose false statements
- Failure to present exculpatory evidence
Negotiating a plea agreement
If the prosecution is likely to resist a motion to dismiss (or had already resisted a motion for dismissal ), then it might be time to consider a plea deal. The decision to proceed with a plea agreement is not to be dealt with lightly, and defendants and their attorneys must work together to reach an informed conclusion about: (i) whether to proceed with a plea agreement, (ii) when to initiate a plea agreement and (iii) what type of plea bargaining strategy to employ.
After knowing what happens after an indictment, we know that an indictment is a formal written charge of a crime confirmed by a grand jury and presented to the court for the trial of the accused. It is called a presentment or True bill in the United States. An indictment contains basic information that informs a person of the charges against them. Prosecutors can generally choose how to charge a crime: by indictment or criminal complaint.
Does being indicted mean jail time?
An indictment does not mean jail time; it refers to a situation where a crime gets committed, and the accused person must stand trial. It is important to note that the person charged does not necessarily have to spend time in jail.
What is the purpose of the indictment?
An indictment becomes necessary when an accused person needs to be served justice for a serious crime. In some states, a grand jury must be present in indictment cases.
What happens post-indictment?
After the grand Jury issues an indictment, a warrant will be issued for your arrest if you are not in custody.
What is the difference between an indictment and a charge?
The difference depends on who made the accusation.
A grand jury files an indictment, while a charge is handed over to the Jury by a prosecutor.
Is it possible to have charges dismissed after the indictment?
Charges can get dropped before or after the indictment is filed. Only the prosecutor can drop such charges if there is insufficient evidence, lack of resources, procedural issues, etc. However, the court can dismiss the charges if the prosecutor makes a fundamental legal error in the case.