Criminal Indictment Lawyers

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What is an Indictment?

A criminal indictment is one of the beginning phases of a criminal felony case that requires a grand jury.  During indictment, the grand jury will determine whether there is enough evidence against the defendant to proceed with trial.  The jury will review the proposed charge, physical evidence, and witness testimony that is presented by the prosecutor. 

The main goal of a criminal indictment is not to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not- this is reserved for actual trial.  Rather, the jury is trying to determine the probability that a crime was committed, and whether the defendant should be tried.  If the jury concludes that there is a high likelihood that the defendant might be guilty, then the indictment will lead to trial. 

When are Grand Juries Necessary?

Grand jury trials are not necessary in all criminal cases.  They are usually only reserved for very serious federal crimes involving felony charges.  The 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires all charges involving capital punishment and “infamous crimes” be filed through a grand jury indictment.  

The grand jury usually consists of 12 to 23 persons selected by the judge.  They become necessary when evidence needs to be reviewed in order to begin the trial.  The Grand Jury may need to sit for several months or even a year. 

Is the Defense Lawyer Present During a Grand Jury Indictment?

No- in general, the judge, defendant, and criminal defense lawyer are not present during state or federal grand jury hearings.  This includes the indictment process.  Instead, the prosecutor will present the evidence to the grand jury during the indictment.  The jury will deliberate, and a majority vote is all that is required to send the case to trial.     

On the other hand, the defendant may still choose to work with a lawyer to assist them with issues that may arise during the trial. 

What do the Terms “Direct Indictment” and “Sealed Indictment” Mean?

A “Direct Indictment” is when the felony case goes straight to trial, often before a criminal complaint was even filed against the defendant.  No inquiry is completed, and the preliminary hearings are bypassed.  Direct indictments are considered to be legal as there is no legal requirement that a criminal trial begin by filing a complaint.  The method of direct indictment is a very powerful legal mechanism reserved only in special cases.

A “Sealed Indictment” means that the indictment is not made public and is kept secret.  The documentation resulting from the indictment is kept “under seal”, meaning that the public cannot access the records from the indictment. 

An indictment may be sealed for several reasons- for example, to protect the identity of the victim or key witnesses involved in the case.  However, a sealed indictment may become public later on after trial, when the seal is “lifted”.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with a Criminal Indictment?

The assistance of a lawyer during any grand jury trial is nearly indispensable.  In fact, even witnesses in a grand jury trial may be represented by their own lawyer, in the event that they become accused of criminal charges.  If you have any issues involving a criminal indictment, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help defend your case.

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Last Modified: 09-09-2011 03:30 PM PDT

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