An indictment refers to a formal accusation in a criminal case against an individual who is suspected of committing a severe criminal offense. It is filed once the grand jury investigation is completed, after which the formal charges follow. 

Types Of Indictment

Indictments can take various forms based on the nature of the alleged crime and legal procedures. The three common types include:

  • Grand Jury Indictment: Issued after a grand jury reviews the evidence and determines there is enough to proceed to trial.
  • Information: Filed by a prosecutor without involving a grand jury, detailing the charges and evidence against the defendant.
  • Complaint: A formal charge often used in misdemeanor cases initiated by a law enforcement officer or private citizen, leading to a court hearing.

These types ensure a flexible approach to criminal proceedings based on the severity of the alleged offense.

What Is The Criminal Law Burden Of Proof For Getting An Indictment?

The criminal law burden of proof for obtaining an indictment is typically based on a standard known as “probable cause.” In the context of a grand jury proceeding, prosecutors must present sufficient evidence to convince the grand jurors that there is a reasonable belief or probability that the accused committed a crime. 

This is a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required for a conviction at trial. The grand jurors evaluate the evidence presented by the prosecution to determine if there is enough basis to issue an indictment, formally charging the accused with a criminal offense.

What Is Waiving Indictment?

Waiving indictment refers to a defendant’s voluntary decision to forego the grand jury criminal indictment process in a criminal case. Instead of presenting the case to a grand jury for consideration, the defendant agrees to be charged with the criminal offense through an information or complaint filed by the prosecutor. 

This is often done through a written waiver of indictment, where the defendant acknowledges the charges and agrees to proceed without the grand jury’s involvement. 

Waiving an indictment can streamline the legal process, and the defendant may choose this option for various reasons, such as negotiating a plea deal or expediting the proceedings.

State-level Indictments

States are free to set their guidelines as they are not compelled to use a grand jury to obtain criminal indictments. State grand juries perform similar duties to federal grand juries for criminal indictments. Still, they are different regarding the number of jurors and the sort of majority (simple majority, two-thirds, etc.) needed. The following is a list of state grand jury statutes examples:

  • California — A supermajority (eight of 11, twelve of 19, or fourteen of 23) is needed for an indictment; the minimum number of jurors is 19, 11 for counties with 20,000 or fewer residents, and 23 for all other counties.
  • Texas — A quorum of nine jurors is needed to proceed, and a true bill requires nine votes to result in an indictment. Twelve jurors are needed in total for all counties.
  • Illinois – A quorum of 12 jurors is needed to proceed, and 16 jurors are needed for all counties. Nine jurors must vote in favor of a true bill to result in an indictment.
  • New York — There must be 16 jurors present, and 12 must agree to render a verdict.

Fifth Amendment And Criminal Indictment

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from being compelled to be witnesses against themselves. In the context of criminal indictments, the Fifth Amendment provides the right to remain silent and not incriminate oneself. 

A defendant can assert this right during grand jury proceedings, where they have the option to refuse to testify. Suppose a person is subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and believes their testimony could be self-incriminating. In that case, they can invoke their Fifth Amendment right and refuse to answer specific questions.

By waiving indictment, a defendant may choose an alternative route to formal criminal charges, such as through a criminal information or complaint. This decision is often made with the advice of legal counsel. It is part of the broader protection afforded by the Fifth Amendment to ensure that individuals are not compelled to participate in their prosecution.

Have Questions About The Indictment? Contact An Attorney

A criminal lawyer can provide essential support during indictment by offering legal counsel, guiding you through the legal process, and building a strong defense strategy to protect your rights and interests. Their expertise can be instrumental in negotiating with prosecutors and representing you in court.