Sometimes individuals get indicted seemingly out of the blue, but often they are aware of the likelihood in the months and weeks preceding the actual event. If you suspect that you might or will be indicted, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what that could entail.
Indictments formally accuse individuals of committing serious crimes once a grand jury concludes its investigation. They are similar to charges filed by prosecutors but differ in important ways.
Federal indictments are issued for felonies and/or “otherwise infamous” crimes. An indictment might be sealed to prevent the defendant from taking any actions that could imperil the prosecutor’s case, including fleeing from the court’s jurisdiction.
White collar crime indictments typically stem from federal investigations by government agencies after the grand jury meets and makes its recommendation — a “true bill.” If the grand jury’s finding is a “no true bill,” that means that the jurors determined there was no probable cause to issue an indictment.
Grand juries aren’t involved with lesser crimes of misdemeanors, which typically are brought forth by prosecutors. A grand jury convenes for a specific amount of time during which it may hear multiple cases.
Defendants may or may not testify in front of the grand jury. Prosecutors typically convene grand juries when they are confident that they will prevail in court. Defendants who testify can challenge the evidence presented, but their criminal defense attorneys are barred from the proceedings and can only offer clients their counsel during brief breaks.
It’s important to understand that grand juries don’t concern themselves with a defendant’s eventual guilt or innocence. Their responsibility is to determine if probable cause exists to take an individual to trial. As such, their decisions do not have to be unanimous.
Grand jurors are citizens of the community tasked with sifting through the government’s evidence. The Handbook for Federal Grand Jurors states that their goal is to decide if “a federal crime has probably been committed by the person accused.”
Those facing federal indictments should avail themselves of all potential legal assistance to determine the most viable defense strategy.