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What is an Indictment?

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One interesting aspect of the criminal law process involves the handing down of indictments to formally charge suspects with the commission of a crime. If you have been named in a criminal indictment, the services of a qualified criminal law attorney will be required to preserve your freedom. It is important that you carefully review the indictment that was filed against you. It can be invalidated if it fails to accurately detail the elements of the alleged crime.

Criminal Prosecutions

Depending upon the jurisdiction, an indictment is often the beginning point of a criminal prosecution. Indictments are the formal papers that charge someone with a crime. Indictments are used in the federal court system as well as many states.

Indictments are generally used in federal court as required by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Indictments are not filed in federal cases for petty offenses, misdemeanors or criminal contempt charges. The right to prosecution by indictment can also be waived by a criminal defendant.

Though many states file indictments to initiate a criminal prosecution, they are not required to do so in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Certain states only use indictments in felony cases. In other states where an indictment is not employed, the prosecuting attorney will likely file a criminal complaint.

Grand Juries

Criminal indictments are handed down by a grand jury. Federal and state grand juries are composed of fellow citizens who are appointed to serve a designated term of service. These citizen jurors will make the ultimate decision regarding whether there is probable cause to initiate a formal criminal charge against a suspect.

If a prosecutor is able to show probable cause that a crime was committed, the grand jury is authorized to hand down a formal indictment. Probable cause means that the available evidence indicates that the accused probably committed the crime.

Typically, neither the accused nor their legal representative is present during the prosecutor’s presentation to a grand jury. Once a prosecutor has presented the available evidence and witnesses, the jurors conduct their deliberations in secret. If a majority of jurors determine that probable cause exists in a given case, the jurors will hand down what is known as a true bill.

What Does an Indictment Mean?

If a grand jury returns a true bill in your case, this means that you have been indicted on criminal charges. If you haven’t yet been arrested, a warrant for your arrest will be forthcoming. If you are already in custody when the grand jury hands down a no bill, you will be released from custody. This doesn’t mean that the government will end its investigation of your involvement in a crime, however.

For a free legal consultation about indictments, get in touch with Brett A. Podolsky at 713-227-0087.

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