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What Happens after a Grand Jury Indictment?

Nicole Madison
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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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:

  • Jurists
  • Interpreters
  • 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
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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon1006048 — On Jan 21, 2022

How long after seeing name in indictments is a court date for said charge?

By anon997908 — On Mar 14, 2017

When indictments are listed, whether it be in the newspaper or at the courthouse, are your entire charges printed in them? I expected to have a few charges if I got indicted and when I did get indicted, there was only one charge listed with it. Could there be more to it when I appear in court?

I ended up with the lesser of the three crimes.

By DanHeimer — On Apr 21, 2015

A grand Jury is 23 random people selected to hear the District Attorney (the Prosecutor) side of the story usually reading an FBI report accusing some individual to be involved in some crime such as a drug related matter, a bank fraud or in extreme cases a murder etc.

As a retired criminal attorney, I can tell you this freighting statistic: Almost 99 percent of the time the 23 people vote yes, approving the federal criminal Indictment.

The question is why such a high rate of indictment approval? This is simply because the Prosecutor (DA) usually does a great job at explaining that by accusing (indicting) an individual out there, they will be helping society and supporting police and FBI efforts etc after all even if that individual is not guilty, it shall be proven in court with a formal trial jury.

They also explain that by serving a federal indictment on someone who is not guilty, but somehow was involved in the criminal violation, they would be able to not only send a good message to the community but also intimidate anyone who would think of committing such a crime.

It is often said: a federal prosecuting DA can convince a grand jury (comprised of 23 citizens) to indict a "ham sandwich". The sad reality is: such an indictment, details many innocent people's lives, as quite often they cannot deal with the pressure of the slow legal system and how society turns against them. They end up pointing fingers against others and working out plea bargains instead of standing their grounds and defending themselves. Quite a few get reduced sentences but are scarred for life. Only those who are not only innocent but also resilient end up fighting and going to trial and winning (getting fully acquitted).

Getting a dismissal from the federal criminal case is a hard as building a pyramid single handedly. But even with that dismissal outcome (meaning all charges get dropped, the accused party, the person that was federally indicted will have to answer for the matter every time someone googles him/her.

By anon969767 — On Sep 12, 2014

I have been on a grand jury. You get picked for it like normal jury duty. The prosecution comes in with cases. You hear stories and you decide whether or not that person gets an indictment, in one to two weeks. Generally no longer.

By anon952233 — On May 20, 2014

After indictment, it can take years for the trial to take place. But an indictment does not mean "guilty"! The grand jury basically goes on the police report, which can be proven wrong, a lie, etc. during trial. But by all means, if you face serious allegations, do your best not to be represented by a public defender. And don't say a word to the police. In my opinion, you should ask for an attorney.

By anon951558 — On May 16, 2014

No, a grand jury, as explained in other posts, only decides if there is enough evidence to let the state proceed with formal charges. It's all due process. Some get indicted on pure circumstantial evidence, and if the DA wants to waste tax dollars on a trial, so be it, but a lot of times it's a bluff on the DA's part, like a game of poker. It's meant to scare you, hoping the suspect will just roll over when they never had a real case anyway! Know your rights!

By anon948815 — On May 02, 2014

A grand jury convenes behind closed doors to decide if the state / District attorney has enough evidence to go ahead and charge said defendant with the alleged offense the police report says they were arrested for. Picking a grand jury is basically the same process as picking people for 'regular' jury duty. And no, just because one may be indicted does not mean that person guilty! It only means the jury believes there is enough evidence to "formally' charge a suspect. Then comes the plea bargains or court trials.

By anon338091 — On Jun 10, 2013

Which of the following steps of a criminal case are listed in the correct order?

a. Arraignment, arrest, trial, indictment.

b. Arrest, indictment, arraignment, trial.

c. Indictment, arraignment, arrest, trial.

d. Arrest, arraignment, indictment, trial.

By anon327432 — On Mar 27, 2013

How is it possible that a grand jury can wait six months to a year to put out an indictment on someone?

By anon297508 — On Oct 16, 2012

How long after being indicted does it typically take to get to court?

By anon295236 — On Oct 05, 2012

The grand jury is a group of people selected just like a normal jury for a trial, except they serve for about twelve months and are behind the scenes. They decide if there is enough information to believe that a crime has been committed, and if there is enough evidence to believe a crime has been committed, then the defendant goes in front of the judge to enter his plea. If he pleads not guilty, then a trial date is set. If there is not enough evidence to believe a crime has been committed, no charges are brought against the defendant.

By jcraig — On Sep 03, 2012

@Emilski - I would say you are probably right. That could be for a couple of reasons. On one hand, yes, maybe they just tend to say that there is probable cause for most people to go to trial. On the other hand, I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the time the people that have been arrested have been arrested because the police found evidence, which is what the grand jury goes on.

I don't know how a federal indictment works, but at the state level, some State's Attorneys are able to get warrants without the approval of a grand jury. Any time I have ever heard of this happening, though, it has been for a murder charge.

By Emilski — On Sep 02, 2012

@TreeMan - Good explanation. I was always a little unclear about grand juries myself.

What I am curious about is how often a grand jury actually decides that there isn't enough evidence to hold someone accountable for a crime. It seems like in all the example I hear that they usually error on the side of guilt and let the court and a jury decide whether they are truly guilty.

I can't recall ever hearing a story about people being upset because the grand jury indictment process decided that there wasn't enough evidence. I'm sure it has happened, but not in many big crimes.

By TreeMan — On Sep 02, 2012

@Izzy78 - Don't feel bad. I had a hard time figuring out what a grand jury was at first, too. Luckily, my grandfather was on one and explained it to me. For some reason they are always mentioned in the news and during trials, but it's always very vague as to who they are.

You are correct that the individuals decide if someone should be charged with a crime. A grand jury is selected from the voter registration pool just like a petit jury. Unlike a regular jury, though, grand jury members serve for a certain period of time. I believe it is usually a year. Depending on the number of crimes in the district, they meet a certain number of times per week to look over cases.

Because it is a regular commitment, it usually just ends up being retirees or self-employed people that accept the duty. As they are deciding the cases, they usually have someone with a legal background to help them interpret the laws.

By Izzy78 — On Sep 01, 2012

In my civics class we have been doing a unit on the court process, but I still don't know if I understand how a grand jury works. My teacher can't seem to give me a good answer, either. I'm not completely sure he knows what it means.

First off, what exactly is a grand jury? The article says that they aren't the actual jury who sentences people. So, if I understand it correctly, the grand jury just decides if someone actually committed a crime. Is that correct? If so, where do they come from? I have never actually seen a grand jury before. Is it just a group of judges or the attorneys or who? It's very confusing to me.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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