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What does indicted mean in court?

Being indicted is a critical stage in the criminal legal process that signals formal charges are being filed against you. But what exactly does it mean to be indicted, and how serious is it? This guide explains the indictment process, what happens when you are indicted, and key takeaways to understand.

Definition of indicted

To be indicted means a grand jury has determined there is enough evidence against you to formally charge you with a crime. An indictment is the official charging document submitted by the prosecutor and approved by the grand jury.

Being indicted is more significant than simply being arrested or accused of a crime. It means legal proceedings are now being initiated against you based on the prosecutor presenting evidence and getting the indictment authorized.

The indictment process

Before a person can be indicted, there is a process involving a prosecuting attorney presenting evidence to a grand jury.

How does a grand jury work?

A grand jury is a group of citizens who listen to the prosecutor summarize evidence and testimony about an alleged crime. The grand jury then decides if there is probable cause to charge the person with a specific crime.

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Grand juries typically have 16-23 members who serve for a defined period. The proceedings are closed to the public. If the grand jury decides there is enough evidence, they will return an indictment.

What happens after an indictment?

After a grand jury approves an indictment, the next steps include:

  • The person is formally charged with specific crimes.
  • An arrest warrant may be issued.
  • The person may be arrested and booked.
  • There will be an arraignment hearing where charges are read and a plea entered.
  • Bail conditions and pre-trial supervision may be set.
  • The defense and prosecution start preparing for trial.

So being indicted sets in motion the official court proceedings based on the charges.

Differences between indicted and charged

What exactly is the difference between being indicted versus charged?

Indicted means formal charges

To be indicted means to have a grand jury approve formal charges being filed against you. This is based on the prosecutor’s presentation of evidence.

Charged can happen before indictment

Being charged is a broader term that can cover scenarios like:

  • Being arrested and accused of a crime
  • Having a criminal complaint filed
  • The prosecutor filing a “bill of information” rather than using a grand jury

So you can be charged with a crime without being indicted, but being indicted means formal charges were approved and you are now heading to trial.

What if you are indicted?

If you receive notice you’ve been indicted, here are some steps to take:

Get a criminal defense lawyer

Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. They can advise you on the charges, options, and building your defense.

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Understand the charges and your rights

Make sure you understand exactly what crimes you’re being accused of and potential penalties. Also know your rights throughout the process.

Consider your defense options

Your attorney can discuss defense strategies like plea bargains, motions to dismiss, going to trial, and more. Make informed choices.

Consequences of an indictment

Being indicted can significantly impact someone both legally and personally, such as:

Stigma and stress

The social stigma and emotional stress of facing criminal charges can be difficult. Your reputation may also be affected.

Bail and pretrial conditions

You may be required to post bail, have travel restrictions, or abide by other pretrial conditions.

Potential trial and penalties

You will need to mount a defense against formal charges that could lead to conviction and steep sentences if found or pleading guilty.

How common are indictments?

The number of criminal cases submitted for indictment and approved varies by jurisdiction. Federal data indicates:

  • Estimated 320,000+ federal indictments are filed yearly.
  • Around 1 million+ felony cases are filed in state courts each year.
  • Grand juries historically approve over 99% of indictments sought.

So prosecutors very often successfully obtain indictments to advance cases toward trial.

Key takeaways

  • Being indicted means a grand jury has approved formal charges filed against you.
  • The indictment process involves the prosecutor summarizing evidence.
  • An indictment leads to further legal proceedings, including potential trial.
  • Hire a criminal defense attorney right away if indicted.
  • Understand the charges and explore defenses with your lawyer.

Being indicted marks a serious point in the criminal process that should be taken extremely seriously. Consult with an attorney about your options and building the strongest defense.

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Q: Can you be indicted without being arrested first?

A: Yes, it’s possible to be indicted before being arrested. The grand jury approves charges based on evidence, which can lead to an arrest warrant and charges even if you haven’t been arrested yet.

Q: What does it mean if the grand jury doesn’t indict?

A: If a grand jury decides there is not probable cause and votes not to indict, it means the prosecutor failed to convince them there was enough evidence to support the proposed criminal charges.

Q: Does an indictment mean you are guilty?

A: No, an indictment only means a grand jury found probable cause to charge you – it is not a finding of guilt. You are still presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Q: Can an indictment be dismissed?

A: Yes, in some cases a criminal defense attorney can file motions to dismiss an indictment if there are legal deficiencies or other issues with the grand jury process or validity of charges.

Q: How do you prepare for an indictment hearing?

A: It’s important to hire a criminal defense lawyer to advise you on the process, understand the charges, begin preparing your defense, and represent you at indictment-related hearings. Be cooperative with your attorney’s guidance.

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