Federal indictments have made the news frequently over the past few years. Media outlets have often reported on the indictments of politicians, CEOS, TV personalities, and public officials, declaring them signs that the justice system works. However, an indictment is not a conviction. It is the government accusing you of a crime, and the first step in a much longer process that may or may not lead to a criminal trial.
It is normal to be worried if you have been indicted for a crime. Below, we discuss what indictment means, compare indictments vs. charges, and explain what to expect after being indicted.
What Is an Indictment?
An indictment is a formal written accusation of crime. The charges included in the indictment were voted on and approved by a grand jury. Once an indictment is unsealed and filed, the charges are presented to the court for arraignment and trial. Indictments are most often used to charge people with serious crimes. The indictment process determines if there’s enough evidence to offer probable cause and justify pursuing a trial for the crime.
When are indictments issued? They may occur before prosecuting someone for a federal felony. They are not the same as convictions. If a federal prosecutor is seeking an indictment against you, they want to charge you with a crime and believe they have enough evidence to support probable cause.
Indictments occur before a grand jury, a collection of 16-23 citizens responsible for deciding whether the prosecutor’s argument is strong enough to support a trial. The grand jury does not need to make a unanimous decision. As long as a majority of the jury agrees, you will be indicted, and the case against you will move forward.
It is important to note that you may or may not be aware that you are being indicted. Grand juries are held in secrecy if the prosecutor believes there is a risk of the defendant destroying evidence or leaving the country. You may not know that you have been indicted until charges have already been filed, and you are arrested.
The Difference Between Being Indicted and Charged
There are some significant differences when you compare indictments vs. charges. An indictment is filed by a grand jury in matters involving serious federal crimes. Meanwhile, a criminal charge is filed by a prosecutor for any type of crime.
What Happens After You’ve Been Indicted?
Once you have been indicted and charges have been filed against you, the case will proceed. The following steps include:
- Being arrested. Indictments may occur before any arrests are made. Once you’re indicted, you may have the option to voluntarily submit yourself for processing. If you do not, you can expect a visit from law enforcement to officially arrest you and take you into custody.
- Appearing in court. After your arrest, you will make your initial court appearance. The judge will explain your rights to you, including Fifth Amendment and Miranda rights and your right to an attorney. This is also when you will learn about whether you will be eligible for bail bonds or if you will remain in custody through the duration of your trial.
- Arraignment. During your initial appearance, you will be arraigned. The arraignment is when you are informed of your specific charges. At the arraignment, your attorney will help you enter a guilty or not guilty plea.
- Criminal trials or sentencing. If you pled not guilty, you will now wait for your arraignment. This may take several months to several years. However, if you accepted a plea deal and pled guilty, you will move directly to the sentencing hearing.
Consult With Knowledgeable Mitigation Specialists
Learning that you may be indicted can be alarming. Don’t go into the process blind. In addition to working with an experienced lawyer, you can consult with qualified mitigation specialists to learn more about your options for reducing or avoiding criminal sentences. Learn more about the benefits of working with a prison consultant by consulting with the experts at Liberty Advisors, LLC.