When a person is accused of a crime, it must be determined that there is enough evidence to bring charges against that person. An indictment is a formal accusation of a crime that is issued when a grand jury decides there is “probable cause” that a person committed a crime. In the case of less serious crimes, the prosecutor will file a criminal complaint and there will be a “probable cause hearing” to determine whether charges can be filed. When crimes are more serious, however, the prosecutor often seeks an indictment, which is a more exhaustive investigative process involving a “grand jury,” witnesses and evidence. Once the grand jury have made their decision, the indictment gives the go-ahead for charges to be formally filed and for a criminal trial to proceed if necessary.
An indictment is the result of a grand jury investigation during which evidence is heard before a jury of people from the community, known as a grand jury. The jury is called the “grand jury” as it is made up of 23 jurors, compared to 6-12 trial jurors. If the grand jury assent that there is “probable cause” that a person has committed a crime, they issue an indictment and the criminal case can go ahead.
Why and When Do You Need an Indictment?
You may be wondering why you have to be indicted for a crime. During the indictment, neither you nor your attorney are present. Often, grand jury investigations take place without your knowledge. It’s nerve-wracking to imagine that the prosecution could be working with a grand jury on filing charges against you, in a non-adversarial proceeding where neither you nor your attorney can make a case for yourself.
However an indictment is actually a right guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. All serious crimes defined as a “capital or otherwise infamous” crimes, require an indictment. An indictment exists so that the evidence against you can be presented to an unbiased group of citizens who don’t know you. The right to a grand jury is a federally guaranteed right, but states have different rules about when and how indictments can take place. In Massachusetts, an indictment happens when the District Attorney decides to prosecute a case in the Massachusetts Superior Court. More serious cases are heard in the Massachusetts Superior Court.
The grand jury investigation can take place over several months and is completely secret. The secrecy of proceedings can be a way of encouraging witnesses to speak freely. The evidence can’t be used in the trial. However if witnesses change their stories and there are discrepancies between evidence given at trial and grand jury investigation transcripts, this could be used at your trial.
What Happens During an Indictment?
It’s important to note that during the indictment, the evidence is not weighed to determine whether you committed a crime. Your attorney will not be present to defend you and the prosecutor can only tie the evidence to the charges. The evidence is presented to determine if there is probable cause that you are responsible for the charges the prosecutor has brought. Probable cause is a lower burden of proof than “beyond reasonable doubt,” which is the standard for bringing a verdict at a criminal trial.
During a grand jury investigation, the grand jury work with prosecutors and can call witnesses and request evidence. The grand jury and prosecutors can use a wide range of evidence during the indictment, and the evidence can be more wide-ranging and less exacting than evidence used in a criminal trial.
During an indictment, the only people present are the prosecutor, the jurors on the grand jury, any witnesses, and sometimes the witnesses’ attorneys. When the grand jury vote to issue an indictment they issue a formal paper known as a “true bill.” If the grand jury decides the evidence is not sufficient to issue an indictment they issue a “no bill.” To reach a decision, 12 or more of the 23 jurors must agree.
What Should I Do If I Am Being Indicted?
Unfortunately indictments often result in a grand jury indicting you for a crime. The old saying is that a grand jury would “indict a ham sandwich.” The grand jury issue what is known as a “true bill” when they decide you should be indicted. It is rare for the grand jury to issue a “no bill” and dismiss the indictment.
Indictments are a right of the accused, but they are also a way for the prosecutor to secure a criminal trial or conviction by presenting the evidence during a non-adversarial proceeding where it’s likely that the grand jury will vote to indict the accused.
If you are being investigated for a crime or believe you are a suspect in a criminal investigation, you should immediately contact an experienced Boston criminal law attorney. When a criminal investigation begins, there is a timeline of events during which you have the chance to assert your rights and defend yourself. If you don’t act within this timeline, you may miss your chance to challenge aspects of the process, develop a strategy and defend your rights. If you know or think you are being indicted for a crime you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. Your attorney can advise you whether you should move to dismiss the indictment, plead guilty or contest the indictment and request your constitutional right to a criminal trial. It isn’t always easy to get an indictment dismissed, but in some cases it can happen if procedure isn’t followed, or if evidence doesn’t meet the standard or for other reasons.
The most important thing to remember is that an indictment is NOT a guilty verdict. You can still fight for your rights and defend yourself against the charges issued in an indictment, but you will need a good criminal law attorney by your side. The attorneys at Dhar Law LLP are highly experienced criminal law attorneys who have defended many serious crimes in the Massachusetts Superior Court. Please contact us immediately at (617)-880-6155 if you need support during a criminal indictment.