What is an Indictment?
In common law, an indictment is a formal accusation, which denotes a person has committed a crime. It is a written statement that formally accuses a party (person or legal entity) of committing a specific crime. The indictment does not affirm guilt or the delivery of a punishment; the indictment denotes the formal initiation of a court—the trial or petit jury is responsible for determining the suspect’s innocence or guilt. An indictment is one of several ways to bring a suspected individual to trial. Bills of indictment are typically prepared by a district attorney who acts for the state and is presented to a grand jury with supporting evidence.
Criminal Indictment: The Process
The criminal indictment process begins when an individual is arrested or cited for a criminal infraction. Following the arrest, law enforcement officers will send a report and supporting documents to prosecutors for the government. These individuals—who are in essence government attorneys—will review the arrest, the suspect’s criminal history and evaluate other variables to determine what indictment charges should be filed against the suspect. According to law, the majority of states will require that an individual in custody be charged or released within 2 to 3 days of detainment. At this point in criminal indictment process, these initial charges may be modified at a later date.
Upon reviewing the information, the prosecution can render a decision concerning the charges to be filed. In felony matters, prosecutors will call on a grand jury to affirm the charges through the indictment process. The grand jury is responsible for the indictment process; the grand jury will determine what charges will be formally filed against the defendant. In addition to the grand jury a petit or trial jury will be attached the indictment process. The trial or petit jury is responsible for judging the suspect; these juries will render a non-guilty or guilty decision with regards to the indictment charges.
A grand jury is comprised of between six and twelve people. The grand jury is randomly chosen and the indictment process is privately processed. To process the indictment, the grand jury will be presented with a “bill” by the prosecutor; during the delivery of the bill, the prosecutor will also present evidence necessary to formulate the indictment. After receiving this information, the grand jury may call the suspect as a witness during the indictment process. In response, the defendant may plead the Fifth Amendment to refrain from making statements regarding the charges. Although the grand jury is responsible for conducting the indictment process, the prosecutor maintains ultimate authority.
A prosecutor is an elected public official and the primary legal representative of the indictment process in countries who practice the common law system. As such, the prosecution is the legal party who presents the case in a criminal trial against individuals accused of violating the law. A prosecutor will be involved in a criminal case when an individual has been identified and charges are required for filing purposes. Prosecutors are employed by an office of the government; because the individual is backed by the state, a prosecutor will be subject to special professional responsibility regulations in addition to those that bind legal professionals.