More than likely, you know the word “indictment” from the news, a crime drama on TV, or your favorite true crime podcast. Generally, we hear it in the context of criminal charges. No matter the source, you know being indicted is not a good thing.
What does indicted mean, though? To put it simply, an indictment is a formal accusation against an individual suspected of a crime at the conclusion of a grand jury.
What Is An Indictment?
Whether at the federal or state level, an indictment is a formal accusation that allows a prosecutor to bring a case to trial. When a criminal court in the United States indicts someone, it means that a grand jury believed that there was enough evidence for criminal charges.
A grand jury is composed of randomly chosen residents, much like a trial jury. A judge convenes this panel at the request of the prosecution. It can last for weeks, and the panel may hear evidence from a variety of cases.
Generally, the judge is not present during these proceedings once they have the jurors selected. Additionally, the jurors have the option to ask witnesses questions, a stark difference from criminal trials.
Another key difference is that a simple majority rules in a grand jury, so there’s no need for a complete consensus. The grand jurors hear evidence and testimony from the federal prosecutors and their witnesses. However, they do not hear from the defense.
In some cases, they don’t even hear from the person accused of the crime.
Federal Grand Juries, Indictments, & the Fifth Amendment
The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that the federal government seek an indictment from a grand jury prior to prosecuting someone for a felony or otherwise infamous crime. This means that the indictment comes after the grand jury but before an arrest.
However, this requirement does not extend to state-level criminal charges. This means that a state prosecutor can bring felony charges without an indictment under state law. Still, many states follow a similar procedure for the prosecution of severe felonies and certain misdemeanors.
Indictments in Texas
Because states do not all have the requirement to use a grand jury for felony indictments, those that do follow rules specific to the state. While state grand juries function similarly to federal ones, there are differences in the number of jurors and the type of majority required.
In Texas, grand juries require 12 jurors across counties. To reach a quorum, they need nine jurors to agree. In order to get an indictment, that means nine jurors have to vote for a “true bill.”
Start Your Defense Early
As Americans, the indictment process is a crucial aspect of our right to due process. “What does indicted mean” is a fine question to ask, but it’s important to understand the steps involved. Moreover, it’s vital that you consult an experienced defense attorney when you or a loved one faces legal trouble.
If you or someone you know is a suspect, it’s in your best interest to work with an attorney. Your criminal defense lawyer is your advocate, someone to fight for the best possible outcome of your case and protect your best interests. If you live in Texas, contact the legal team at Universal Law Group to learn more about your rights.