There are many steps in the legal process before a defendant even goes to trial. One of these steps involves presenting the charges, a felony indictment, to the defendant in court.
This blog post will cover the different aspects of a felony indictment.
- What is a Felony Indictment and its Purpose?
- How is a Felony Indictment Passed?
- How is the Decision Made to Pursue a Felony Indictment?
- Supporting the Accused after a Felony Indictment Has Been Passed
What is a Felony Indictment and its Purpose?
A felony indictment is a written accusation presented to a judge that an individual has committed a crime. This may be an act performed or something omitted that is punishable by the law.
A felony indictment is in the form of a document. The indictment is usually read before a judge at a hearing, which is sometimes called an arraignment.
The formal arraignment does not take place, however, until the accused has been arrested and formally charged. (See the blog post on Felony Arraignment.)
The purpose of a felony indictment is to inform the person of the charges and in order that legal counsel can prepare a defense. Legal counsel is available.
In a way the felony indictment is a form of protection for a suspect. A person is entitled to not be prosecuted until a Grand Jury has determined that there is enough evidence to support criminal prosecution.
This is guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment which states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment of a Grand Jury…”
While in many states a Grand Jury is common in charging a federal crime, others do not use them often.
Those states present the criminal complaint to a lower court judge or magistrate to decide if the prosecutor has presented enough evidence that the accused has committed a crime.
How is the Decision Made to Pursue a Felony Indictment?
The decision to seek a felony indictment is up to the prosecutor. An arrest is made on probable cause of a crime being committed.
The decision to request a felony indictment occurs only if the prosecutor believes there is enough evidence to prove the suspect’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecutor may look at all of the circumstances of the case. This will include the police report. It will also include the suspect’s past criminal record in reaching a decision of whether and what the charges will be.
Prosecutors can file charges for all crimes for which a suspect has been arrested. They can also file charges that are more or less severe than the police charges or decide not to file charges at all.
How is a Felony Indictment Passed?
In order to bring a felony indictment the Grand Jury will not decide guilt, but the probability that a crime was committed, that the accused did it, and should be tried for it.
The decision that there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial is called a true bill while the decision that there is not enough evidence is called no bill.
Unlike a trial jury which has 12, a Grand Jury is typically made up of 23 people. Grand Jury proceedings are not held in public court but are conducted in private.
Also, the accused does not have the right to attend. A Grand Jury will hear only from the prosecutor and any witnesses.
The prosecutor will often present only key facts to show probable cause to save court time and to avoid revealing all of the evidence in the case.
A few states provide the accused the right to appear at the proceedings. Additionally, the decision of the Grand Jury does not have to be unanimous. A simple majority is enough to bring back a felony indictment.
There are occasions in which only 16 people will be on the Grand Jury with a two thirds vote being required to reach a decision for felony indictment.
There are two ways in which the accused may be indicted. First, the defendant can actually be arrested for a felony crime prior to the indictment.
The other way is to be indicted without arrest. A Grand Jury may convene and bring back a decision called a sealed indictment.
This means that the individual did not know about an investigation beforehand. Evidence is presented to a Grand Jury, and if a felony indictment occurs, than the person under investigation will be arrested in the case.
Supporting the Accused after a Felony Indictment Has Been Passed
Once the charges have been read and if the Grand Jury recommends the accused going to trial is the time when action is taken on the behalf of the accused. The defendant now knows exactly what the charges are and has adequate information for legal counsel to prepare a defense.
The family of the accused also is now aware of the exact charges and will have a better idea of what they will be facing as the process moves forward.
It is important to reassure the defendant that the family and friends are there for support throughout the legal process, no matter how long it takes.
After all, it is a very difficult time for everyone involved.
So what do you think about this blog post about what felony indictment mean? What is your experience with felony indictment? Please tell us in the comments below.