After a grand jury indictment, the individual who is charged in the case usually has a chance to enter a plea. If he chooses to plead not guilty, a trial is set, during which prosecuting attorneys work to prove his guilt while defense attorneys work to prove his innocence. In the event that the party pleads guilty to the charges levied against him, he may receive a sentencing hearing instead. In the time leading up to the trial, the person may have to stay in jail or he may be released on bail. This depends on the jurisdiction in which the person is indicted, the unique details of the case, and whether or not he is likely to flee before the trial.
Following an indictment, the accused party is formally charged with the crime. If he has yet to be arrested, he may be arrested and then charged. In most jurisdictions, the accused party attends a pretrial hearing and has the opportunity to enter a plea. In the event that he pleads guilty, he may be sentenced then or at a later date, but there is typically no need for a trial. If he pleads not guilty, however, he is usually given a trial.
Some people confuse a grand jury indictment with a conviction and think an indictment means the accused party will be sentenced for the crime of which he was accused. This is not usually the case, however. Instead, an indictment only means that the grand jury believes there is enough evidence to charge the accused party with the crime. The accused individual is usually given a trial before another type of jury, which is referred to as a petit or trial jury, in order to determine whether he is guilty or innocent of the crime.
Though a person is given a trial after an indictment, the trial is not usually held immediately. This means the accused party has to wait and a judge may decide that he should do so in jail. In some cases, however, a judge decides that a party should be released on bail until his trial date. The laws of the jurisdiction play a role in this decision, but a judge may also consider the nature of the crime, whether or not the accused party is dangerous, and the likelihood that he will flee prosecution.
What Does Indictment Mean?
When people are indicted, they are given official notice that they are believed to have committed a crime. Indictment typically occurs after the prosecutor examines evidence and information collected by investigators, as well as information they obtain from speaking with individuals who are believed to be involved in the crime. Once they do this, they decide whether to present the assembled case before a grand jury.
For cases involving felony charges, the prosecutor will present the evidence to a group of impartial citizens referred to as a grand jury. During this time, witnesses will be asked to testify, an outline of the actual case will be presented, and evidence will be exhibited. The grand jury will then vote in secret on whether there is enough evidence to actually charge the person with a crime after listening to the prosecutor and witnesses.
If the grand jury decides not to charge the person with a crime based on the evidence presented, there will be no indictment. Statements and proceedings made before any grand jury are private (sealed), so only the individuals in the courtroom have knowledge of who said what. According to the constitution, a grand jury must be present for certain types of crimes so a group that does not know the person charged can make an unbiased decision as to whether the person should be charged with a crime. Grand juries consist of 16-23 individuals, and during proceedings, only specific individuals are allowed to attend. A total of at least 12 jurors must be in agreement to issue an indictment.
When Is a Grand Jury Indictment Required?
States do not have to utilize a grand jury to charge an individual. Most do, but only the federal government is required to use grand juries for all felony cases. After the accused person is indicted, he or she may hire an attorney or elect to be represented by a government-provided attorney instead. A government-provided attorney is known as a public defender. The accused individual’s attorney will help him or her understand the facts associated with the case and the law in general. The prosecutor will represent the government and the accused individual’s lawyer will represent them.
What Happens After Indictment?
As previously mentioned, in the wake of an indictment, the accused person is either formally charged with a crime or released. If the indicted individual has not been arrested yet, he or she may be arrested and charged. In the majority of jurisdictions, the accused person will attend a pretrial hearing and receive the opportunity to enter a plea. If the indicted individual pleads guilty, he or she may be sentenced immediately or on a later date since there is no longer a need for a trial. If the person pleads not guilty, a formal trial will ensue.
Although individuals are placed on trial following the indictment, the trial is almost never held immediately. In other words, the accused individual will need to wait, and depending on the severity of the crimes they are accused of, a judge may decide he or she needs to wait for trial in jail. In some cases, the judge will decide the accused person should be released on bail until the date of his or her trial. When deciding if a person should wait in jail or be released on bail, the judge will typically consider factors such as whether the accused person is dangerous, the nature of the crime, and if the accused presents a flight risk.
Before a person goes to trial, he or she may have the option to accept a plea bargain (or deal) if the state or federal government is willing to offer one. A plea bargain or deal means that a person pleads guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence than he or she would have received if the case went to trial. An attorney must bring every plea deal offered by the prosecutor before the accused party so he or she can decide whether to accept it.
Is a Person Guilty if Indicted?
Just because a person is indicted, it does not mean he or she is guilty of the crime he or she is believed to have committed. If a person is indicted, it simply means the prosecutor has collected enough evidence to charge that person with the crime in question. In other words, an indictment only means there is probable cause to charge an individual with a crime. To be convicted of a crime, the state or federal government must prove beyond all reasonable doubt that a person committed a crime. Probable cause means that a person probably committed a crime based solely on the evidence that is available.
How Long Does a Grand Jury Have To Indict Someone?
Federal grand juries are empaneled for a period of 18 months, although there is no requirement that they use the entirety of that time before deciding whether to indict. They are allowed to request an extension if they are unable to come to a determination within the prescribed time frame. Typically extensions are granted for a period of up to six months, but under special circumstances in large districts or those dealing with high levels of crime, grand juries may request and receive extensions for as long as a second 18 month period.
At the state level, the time period for which a grand jury is empaneled varies greatly. Depending on the state, juries may be called for a few weeks to as long as a year.
How Can Grand Jurors Serve for Such Extended Periods?
Jurors are selected at random but are allowed to present valid reasons why they should be excused from service. Due to the length of service, it is typical to see a grand jury made up of people who are retired or who have a flexible work schedule.
Unlike trial juries, grand juries do not convene daily. Usually, jurors will only be called upon to meet once a week and sometimes less. This allows many persons to sit on a grand jury who otherwise would not be able to due to job or family commitments.
Additionally, not all 23 members of a grand jury are required to be present at all times. For the jury to function within its legal parameters, a quorum of 16 must be present. Although jurists are expected to be available for all sessions, they do have the ability to be absent if an emergency arises as long as a minimum of 16 jurists can be present.
Can a Grand Jury Indictment Be Challenged?
It is not unusual for a defendant or his legal council to seek to challenge a grand jury indictment; however, it is rare for such a challenge to be successful. The defendant has the greatest chance of having an indictment dismissed if their legal team can prove that there were issues of due process or any constitutional violations. Some of the most common grounds for seeking dismissal are listed below:
- Proving that the jury or members thereof have unreasonable biases or prejudices that affected their determination of indictment.
- Showing that a preponderance of testimony was hearsay. Unlike a criminal trial, hearsay is acceptable testimony before a grand jury, but the case cannot rely too heavily on it.
- Determining that the prosecutor failed to present exculpatory evidence. As no defense council is heard by a grand jury, the prosecutor is expected to make a reasonable effort to present evidence both for and against the charge.
- Proving that the prosecutor was aware that false statements were made, failed to disclose this to the jury and that those statements heavily influenced the jury's decision to indict.
Are Grand Jury Indictments Public Record?
If a grand jury decides to indict, that indictment will become a matter of public record. Since a grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence, but only the likelihood that a crime has been committed, the indictment will lead to a criminal trial which is a public matter.
All grand jury records are sealed and are not typically available to the public. These records may be used as prosecutorial evidence in the proceeding criminal trial and in that manner may come into the public view.
Who Is Bound by Grand Jury Secrecy?
The work of a grand jury, including the fact that it exists at all, is cloaked from the public in a myriad of ways. However, that shroud of secrecy is not as pervasive as some may think. For instance, a witness before a grand jury is not barred from discussing his or her own testimony, although it may serve that witness to remain silent. In publicly discussing grand jury testimony, a witness may accidentally reveal information they have failed to disclose to the jury or make contradictory statements, either of which could lead to charges of withholding testimony or giving false testimony.
In fact, under Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, secrecy cannot be imposed on anyone except for a distinct list of individuals directly involved with the proceedings which include:
- Court reporters, recorders or transcriptionists
- The prosecutor
- Persons such as attorneys or government officials to whom permission has been granted to make disclosures of the proceedings