Many people are familiar with the word indictment. They may have heard the word used recently in high-profile cases. However, they may not be aware of the process for obtaining an indictment or when criminal law requires an indictment.
An indictment is a formal accusation of a crime in a criminal prosecution. Indictments are used to formally charge someone with a crime. Prosecutors use indictments for both federal crimes and state crimes.
Under The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, an indictment is a right. A person cannot be charged with a serious federal crime unless the government obtains a federal indictment. However, state indictments are not a constitutional requirement, and the laws vary by state as to how indictments are used.
In Ohio, the indictment process is used mainly for felony crimes. Felony charges require Grand Jury Indictments, but indictments are not required for misdemeanor criminal cases. Felony crimes are the most serious crimes and carry harsh penalties for convictions.
How Does the Indictment Process Work?
The indictment process begins by convening a grand jury. A grand jury in Ohio is composed of 15 jurors. The grand jurors are selected from a pool of eligible individuals living within the court’s jurisdiction.
Prosecutors build a case by gathering evidence that someone committed a crime. When the prosecutor believes that he has enough evidence to prove probable cause, he can take the matter before the grand jury. The prosecutor may present testimony from witnesses in addition to physical evidence for the jurors to consider.
Because grand juries meet in secret, neither the alleged perpetrator nor his criminal lawyer knows about the grand jury meeting. The evidence and testimony presented remain sealed unless otherwise ordered by a judge for good cause. Nothing that is said in a grand jury proceeding can be discussed outside of the room.
The jurors consider the evidence presented and return one of three verdicts:
- No Bill or Ignore, meaning the case is dismissed for a lack of evidence
- Indict as charged, which result in a formal indictment of felony charges against the person
- Amend the charges to misdemeanors, which might occur when there is insufficient evidence to charge the person with a felony
The Grand Jury Indictment lists each of the felony offenses as a “count.” There could be multiple counts on one indictment. If so, they are listed numerically.
A grand jury proceeding is not a jury trial. The jurors do not decide guilt or innocence. They merely determine if there is sufficient evidence to establish probable cause to charge a person with a criminal offense.
What Happens After an Indictment is Issued?
If the person is already in custody, the case can proceed through the trial process. If the person is not in custody, law enforcement officers will arrest the person and place them in jail pending further hearings on bail and other matters.
If you are arrested on a federal or state indictment, you need a criminal defense attorney immediately. Because indictments are used to charge individuals with serious offenses like homicide, violent sex crimes, and white collar crimes, you could face severe penalties for a conviction.
Depending on the criminal charges, you could be sentenced to decades in prison and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.
What is a Bill of Information?
In some cases, the prosecutor may give a person the opportunity to waive a grand jury indictment. Instead, the prosecutor charges the person with a Bill of Information. A Bill of Information is a statement signed by the prosecutor and filed with the clerk of court.
There could be advantages of waiving an indictment by a grand jury and accepting a Bill of Information. If you choose to waive the indictment, it could speed up the timeline to resolve your case, especially when the waiver is used as part of a predetermined plea agreement.
Do I Have to Stay in Jail After a Grand Jury Indictment?
It depends on the circumstances of your case and the criminal charges you face. You are entitled to a bond hearing just like any other person charged with a crime. Depending on your criminal history and the charges against you, the prosecution may argue against your release from jail.
In some cases, your lawyer may be able to work out an agreement with the prosecution for your release. You might be released on home arrest and be required to wear a GPS monitor. The judge could impose other requirements for your release.
Factors that could impact the judge’s decision on bond include:
- The seriousness of the charges against you
- The prosecutor’s recommendation
- Whether you have a history of failing to appear for court hearings
- Your criminal history
- Whether you have strong ties to the community
- If the judge considers you a flight risk
Ultimately, it is up to the judge to decide whether you are granted bond and released from jail pending the resolution of your criminal case.
What Should You Do Now?
If a grand jury indicated you for a crime, it is time to prepare for your defense. Being indicted is not a guilty verdict. You are presumed innocent until the state proves you are guilty through the standard criminal procedure.
However, never rest on the presumption of innocence. You must mount a vigorous and aggressive defense to protect yourself. Even if you committed a crime, you have the opportunity to defend yourself in court.
The best thing you can do right now is to listen your lawyer. Your attorney will give you instructions and advise you of things you should and should not do.
As your attorney investigates the charges against you and gathers evidence to use in your defense, he may request information and documentation from you. Always respond to your attorney immediately and provide the information and documentation as soon as possible.
Working closely with your attorney and staying out of trouble is the best chance you have of a favorable outcome in your criminal case.
Call Our Dayton Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Free Consultation
The indictment process may seem unfair to many people. The proceedings are held in secret, and a person does not have the opportunity to defend themselves against what the prosecution is claiming inside the jury room. You could be the subject of a criminal proceeding and not even know about it until the police arrive to arrest you.
If you suspect that the state or the federal government is investigating you for a crime, take steps now to protect your legal rights. It is best to hire an attorney before a criminal complaint is filed. Contact our law firm to schedule a free consultation with one of our Dayton criminal defense attorneys.