December 10, 2020 | Criminal Defense
You have probably noticed the use of indictments in numerous high profile court cases around the country. An indictment is the formal charging of an individual with a serious crime. Under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, an indictment is laid out as a right, meaning a person can’t be charged with a serious federal crime (capital or infamous, as the amendment puts it) unless they have been indicted.
In state law, while indictments are not a guaranteed right, many states use them in cases that involve a homicide or other serious crime. In Kentucky, the indictment process has come under some scrutiny after the state attorney general used it to charge one of the police officers in the Breonna Taylor case.
However, an indictment is meant to ensure a defendant is fairly tried and that the prosecutor and state have ample evidence to convict them. In order to better understand how the indictment process works, here is some relevant information about indictments.
How an Indictment Works
An indictment starts with the grand jury. Like other juries, a grand jury is composed of individuals who serve for a set period of time. Usually, anywhere from 16-23 people make up a grand jury.
After a person has been suspected of a serious crime, the prosecutor will gather evidence. If they feel they have enough against the defendant to make a strong case, the prosecutor will present their findings to the grand jury and ask the jury to indict the person in question.
Grand juries meet privately and the prosecutor presents their evidence without the public knowing what is said or done. This can be advantageous to the prosecutor and their case as witnesses who might be reticent to testify publicly can come forward to share their story in private.
What’s more, is that the defendant and their legal team do not have the opportunity to make their case as to why he or she should not be indicted. Because of this, grand juries are known for doing what prosecutors want.
What Happens Once a Person is Indicted?
Once a prosecutor has presented the evidence and the grand jury has indicted the defendant, the case is headed for trial. The defendant will have the chance to work with a criminal defense attorney and come up with the best defense possible.
In between the grand jury proceedings and the trial, the prosecutor will also continue to work on his or her case. This can include finding additional evidence or witnesses who can testify against the defendant.
When Indictments Are Not Used
Grand juries and indictments are reserved for the most serious crimes. When an individual is charged with a misdemeanor and even some felonies at the state level, their case will not go through the indictment process.
Instead, a prosecutor will present their case to a judge in a hearing with the defendant present. If the judge believes there is enough reason for a case to go to trial, he or she will decide when the trial will begin.
Obviously, since the defendant is present in such a hearing, he or she, with the help of their lawyer, has a better chance of keeping the case from going to trial.
What To Do if You are Indicted
If you have been indicted for a serious felony and you don’t already have a lawyer, you need to hire one immediately. An indictment means you are being charged with a serious crime and the only way you can present a strong defense is with the help of a skilled lawyer.
Don’t trust your future to the hands of a public defender or defense attorney who has minimal courtroom experience. You need the best legal representation you can find to make sure your case has the best possible outcome.