If you are a crime show fanatic or have been following the recent news reports regarding the college admissions scandal with celebrities Huffman and Laughlin, you have probably heard of the word “indictment”. Simply put, an indictment is a formal accusation against someone who is suspected of committing a serious crime, filed after the conclusion of a grand jury investigation.
With that said, if you’ve been indicted or have reason to believe that you’re a suspect or a “person of interest” in connection with a crime, it is important you work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. This will ensure you fully understand your legal risk, as well as be prepared if prosecutors add any additional charges.
The Fifth Amendment and Grand Juries
According to The Fifth Amendment, the federal government must seek an indictment from a grand jury to prosecute someone for a felony or “infamous crime”. Typically, an indictment happens before an arrest and after a grand jury and it may be sealed to prevent the defendant from destroying evidence or fleeing for as long as necessary.
For lesser crimes, prosecutors will generally file a criminal complaint, often following an arrest and when there is probable cause for the charges. Further, some courts will use preliminary hearings instead of grand juries to determine probable cause, meaning the judge will decide if there is probable cause based on the evidence presented. On the other hand, a grand jury indictment is the result of sworn witness testimony and/or physical evidence. If the grand jury, which is made up of local citizens, decides there is probable cause, it will go to trial, and this generally carries more weight than a criminal complaint.
Getting a Federal Indictment
Generally, prosecutors don’t call for grand juries until they have hard evidence and are confident in the strength of their case. Due to this, it is more than likely a prosecutor will be able to obtain an indictment from a grand jury. However, grand juries allow the defendant to challenge the evidence and will provide a preview of what to expect at trial. During this time, defense lawyers are not allowed to be present in the courtroom, however, the defendant will be given breaks throughout this process where they can leave the courtroom and consult with their defense attorney and address any questions they may have.
Having said that, to get a federal indictment, the 16-23-member grand jury doesn’t have to decide unanimously because they are not determining whether the defendant is guilty or not; they are determining if there is probable cause. For the grand jury to determine probable cause, they have to determine whether a federal crime has probably been committed by the person accused using the presented evidence and facts by the prosecutor. Therefore, if a simple majority decides that the case merit, it will return a “true bill” and go to trial.
Have You Been Indicted?
If you have been indicted or believe you may be a person of interest in relation to a crime, it’s important that you have the right defense team to protect your rights. Experienced representation can make a world of difference and we are the legal experts that have experience with federal cases, and we want to help you. Contact Premier Federal Criminal Defenders today for a free consultation 1-800-455-6200.