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The following is for informational purposes only

What is an Indictment?

What is the Difference Between Indictments and Information?

Those with little experience with authorities will likely not understand the voluminous mountains of linguistic work used by courts. Surface confusion may also add to false and misleading information in media; this makes misunderstandings rampant, and assumptions are costly in real life.

Petite and Grand Juries

We must examine the courts to understand indictments and their purpose in the legal system. There are two types of juries recognized in the American Judicial courts. The first is a trial or petite jury; the other is a grand jury. Each type of jury functions in a different manner relative to the outcome. Trial juries include up to 12 people, resulting in "in favor of plaintiff/defendant" or "guilty/not guilty".

On the other side, grand juries include up to 23 peers, and the outcomes are "probable/not probable"; the accused "probably" did this crime and should be punished for it. The grand jury has two choices, bring charges down on a defendant and start the next trial steps; or if the grand jury finds the defendant not involved, they may receive no charges.

Indictment Definition

An indictment definition could be the charges given by a grand jury. Indictments describe jury-determined criminal charges against a person and the reason for those charges. Anyone charged with a felony has been found "guilty" by a grand jury—another trial will determine punishment.

A grand jury "guilty" means there was enough evidence to establish whether the defendant did something realistically. To that end, grand juries operate differently than trials. In a grand jury setting, only one side of the argument presents to the jurors; these are the "known facts" about the crime. There are no heated debates about morals or dueling lawyers in these meetings.

Indictments handed down have a wealth of information; it is essential that anyone accused of a crime look through their charge with great detail. Improperly filed paperwork is a huge issue if the charges inappropriately add years or take them away. Each crime is a "count", and indictments may have many. Courts should write each count in an accessible manner. Charges also include information about the crimes themselves; some details include the time and place of the crime or how the defendant may have committed the crime. In many states, the wording of an indictment is crucial since punishments can be deadly.

Trial and grand juries do have one similar aspect to each other, however; that is the "testimony" phase in a trial and a "complaint" statement in a grand. During the testimony phase of a trial jury, both the prosecutor and defendant sides can call witnesses to the stand.

What is a Complaint?

Testimony does not occur in grand juries; a complaint occurs instead. Complaints are the most important aspect of a grand jury case because these determine probable cause for the jury. Complaints are given by law enforcement under oath, and they contain essential facts about the crime. Felony cases cannot proceed based only on complaints. If probable cause is established, an arrest warrant may be issued.

What is an Information?

There is also another way around grand juries—this express option is called "information". It operates much like an indictment, but its process is streamlined. Both information and indictments are formal charging documents; they show the charges attached to one’s criminal record and the facts surrounding the case.

Information differs from an indictment when charges are sent to a grand jury—information charges are sent to a judicial officer. These officers are typically judges who overview the case and make a call on probable cause. Information also leads to an arrest warrant.

What Comes After Receiving a Criminal Indictment?

If the concepts are still blurry, let’s try to clear them up; being indicted for a crime is not the same as being convicted for one. If an indictment is issued for a crime, there is enough evidence that authorities are confident of success. Indictments are criminal charges that prosecutors must prove to be beyond a reasonable doubt to reach a conviction; conviction punishments come with imprisonment for felony cases.

The Accused Has a Right to a Grand Jury, and a Right to Challenge It

The right to a grand jury is written in the Constitution. Grand juries are meant to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused—yet grand juries are historically aggressive. After being indicted, many defendants choose to challenge these results. Only under rare circumstances are the outcomes reversed. Examples of these circumstances include:

  • The prosecutor showed bias in his approach. Most commonly, prosecutors fail to show evidence for and against the charges. Due to there being no "defender", it is on prosecutors to present both sides.
  • Most of the evidence was hearsay. Unlike criminal trials, grand juries accept gossip as part of evidence and testimony. However, there is a tipping point where the case becomes void based on too much hearsay and too little evidence.
  • If the defendant can prove that the prosecutor failed to disclose a lie told to the grand jury, that lie then impacts the outcome of the indict. False statements made to the jury to sway sympathy or lie are punishable as a crime. Prosecutors who knowingly allow false testimony are also subject to criminal charges.
  • Or by proving that members of the grand jury have biases that affected the outcome of the indictment. Some still have racist or prejudicial opinions about others in the world; prove you have one on a jury, and the case may be dismissed.

Can the Courts Seal Indictment Outcomes?

Courts can and often do seal indictment records, although the situation plays into this heavily. If the record is sealed, the public cannot access it, but the authorities still can. An indictment may be sealed if there is a risk that the defendant might flee before an arrest occurs. Courts and judges may also seal them to prevent co-conspirators from anticipating charges; to that end, sealing an indictment also stops a flight-risk co-conspirator from fleeing.

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