A grand jury issued the official charge, which signifies that there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the offense to warrant a trial. A not-guilty plea can be made either before or during trial. If a plea is not entered, the case will proceed to trial by jury.
When a grand jury returns an indictment, it is saying that they believe there is sufficient evidence to take the matter to trial. An indictment is a formal written statement filed in the court by a grand jury indicting someone on criminal charges. It is not evidence itself; rather, it is the method by which criminal accusations are initiated. A judge can decide not to try the case if he or she believes there is no reason to do so. In other words, an indictment does not mean that you are guilty; it means only that your case has been brought to court for consideration.
The term "indictment" comes from the English word "indictment," which in turn comes from Latin indicare, meaning to point out. As noted, an indictment is a written statement of the facts of a case brought by a grand jury against one or more people who have been accused of a crime.
When a prosecutor presents a case before a grand jury, she gives the jurors a "bill" (the charges) and adds evidence—usually the bare minimum, in the prosecutor's opinion—in order to gain an indictment. If the grand jury returns an indictment, the defendant will be held pending trial.
The bill of particulars provides information about the nature of the offense that is not apparent from simply reading the indictment. For example, if the indictment merely states that the defendant committed "a felony," the prosecutor would know that this means that the defendant has been accused of committing a specific felony, but the indictment could describe many different types of offenses. By providing a list of elements for each charge, as well as an explanation of why these elements constitute a violation of law, a prosecutor can more accurately determine what type of defense might apply to a case.
Prosecutors often submit cases to the grand jury without knowing how they will respond. If there is probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime, then a prosecutor should present his or her case to a grand jury regardless of how strong he or she thinks the evidence is against the defendant. A prosecutor cannot force a grand jury to indict someone, but he or she can use his or her influence to help ensure an indictment is returned. For example, a prosecutor could suggest that certain witnesses appear before the grand jury or file any necessary documents.
Indictment. A formal complaint is one that is presented to a grand jury by a prosecutor. This document charges someone with a crime and informs the person of their right to be heard in court. An indictment is sufficient grounds for starting a criminal case.
The grand jury meets in secret and decides whether there is enough evidence to begin a prosecution. If so, it returns an indictment, which is then presented to a judge who signs it. The judge can decide not to sign the indictment, in which case it disappears without effect. Or he or she can sign the indictment, at which point it becomes the basis for bringing the defendant to trial.
People call indictments "gifts" from the government because they are documents that charge someone with a crime and start a trial process. The prosecutor calls the grand jury into session and presents them with evidence about how someone may have broken a law. It is up to the grand jury to decide what evidence is enough to begin a prosecution and issue an indictment. Any person, including the accused, can petition a court to dismiss an indictment if there is reason to believe that it was obtained through perjury or other misconduct. But unless dismissed, an indictment is final and cannot be changed.
A grand jury's role in a criminal case is to evaluate whether the evidence merits prosecution. The panel is made up of between 16 and 23 people who were either elected by their peers or appointed by the county prosecutor or judge.
They must all agree to bring charges against you. Otherwise, they don't. They can only decline to charge you if there is no probable cause to believe that you have committed a crime. If some members want to charge you, others may still feel that there isn't enough evidence to go ahead with the case. Then you will be released without being charged.
In most states, including North Carolina, a grand jury meets in secret. Only those people present when it votes on whether to indict you can testify about what they said or did not say. No transcript is made of their discussions or votes. Any member of the public may request to watch the proceedings via live video feed from anywhere in the world. If allowed, you will appear before the grand jury via video link.
If you are indicted for a serious offense, you will need a lawyer to help you fight the charge. Indictments are the first step toward trial. The prosecutor will now have to decide whether to file formal charges against you.
If the grand jury finds sufficient evidence to sustain the indictment, a genuine bill of indictment will be issued. A statement of the charges against an accused individual that is given to a grand jury to assess if there is sufficient evidence to warrant an indictment. If the grand jury determines there is no reason to indict the individual, they will issue a no bill.
A no bill does not mean that the person has been cleared of all accusations. It means only that the evidence was not enough for the grand jury to feel confident in bringing forward a true bill. The decision to issue a no bill is entirely up to the discretion of the prosecutor before whom it is brought.
This means that the grand jury has concluded that there is enough evidence for them to vote to indict someone on specific charges. If more than one kind of indictment is permitted, then a grand jury may issue both a true bill and an indictment. These are called split bills or dual bills. For example, a grand jury may determine there is enough evidence to indict an individual on felony assault charges but not enough evidence to convict them of those crimes. In this case, the grand jury could issue a true bill on the lesser included offense of misdemeanor assault. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies and cannot be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without parole.
The grand jury hears from the prosecutor and witnesses before voting in private on whether there is enough evidence to charge the individual with a crime. Based on the evidence, a grand jury may decide not to charge an individual. The grand jury would not issue an indictment. It is up to the district attorney to file charges against anyone they believe committed a crime.
How do you know if your state allows for grand juries? Does every state have them?
No, only certain states have grand juries. They are called "presentments" or "presentment courts" in some states. These bodies function much like a grand jury, except that their role is not to determine whether there is probable cause to prosecute, but rather whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant a hearing. Some states allow citizens to petition for a grand jury to be convened to hear evidence about possible criminal violations by public officials or employees. Other states require judges to assign members of the bar to serve as grand jurors.
No, only those crimes for which there is sufficient evidence to justify the time and expense of bringing someone before a judge will appear on a grand jury's docket.