Indictments: How Do They Work in the Criminal System?

Thousands of people are arrested in California every year. However, only a small percentage of these people are actually indicted. While you may know an indictment has something to do with a criminal charge, you may not exactly know what they are or how someone can be indicted.

Many of us have heard about indictments in the news or popular TV shows. However, most people are unaware that the concept and rights surrounding an indictment of a grand jury come from the United States Constitution itself. The constitution indicates that anyone facing a capital, or serious crime, should only be charged upon indictment by a grand jury.

The indictment itself is essentially a formal accusation that a person has committed a serious offense. For federal cases, all felony offenses require an indictment.

What is a Grand Jury?

Not all cases require that felony charges be initiated via an indictment. In California, state law explains when indictments are used and what constitutes a grand jury for purposes of an indictment. A separate grand jury is selected to serve for each county and the numerical makeup of the grand jury is based on that county’s population.

In larger counties where the population exceeds 4 million people (e.g., Los Angeles County), there must be 23 members of a grand jury. In counties where the population does not exceed 20,000, there will only be 11 members of a grand jury. Grand juries in all other counties have 19 members.

A grand jury is made up of the same pool of individuals in the community as any other jury. However, the grand jury does not meet in public. Not even a defense attorney is present during this process. Rather, this is an opportunity for the prosecutor to present evidence to the grand jury to see if there is sufficient evidence to move forward with the case. 

  A grand jury hearing is much like a trial. However, the big difference is that you won’t find any defendant or accused in the proceeding, nor will there be a defense attorney present to cross-examine witnesses or challenge the evidence or testimony. The grand jurors are there to determine if there is enough evidence to initiate formal criminal charges. These proceedings, while formal, are secret or private. They are not open to the public, which differs from the vast majority of the rest of the proceedings in a criminal case. 

If the grand jury does indict, meaning they determine there is probable cause to believe the accused committed a particular crime, then the indictment is formalized for the charges presented. The standard of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt like it would be for a jury trial. 

Instead, the standard of proof is a preponderance of the evidence (which means more likely than not or greater than 51%) that probable cause exists to believe the accused committed a crime. 

What Do I Do if I Am Indicted?

Once a person is indicted, the court will issue a warrant for the accused person’s arrest. Under certain circumstances, you may receive a citation and a summons to appear in court as an alternative to indictment.

Depending on the charges listed in the indictment, the person may or may not be entitled to release from custody upon arrest. Clearly, the best way to fight or defend oneself against any charges is to get out of jail as soon as possible. This will help them plan their defense and assist their attorney in preparing the case. 

Pre-trial hearings

If the accused is not immediately released on bond or bail, they will go before a judge for the formal reading of the charges. The judge will review the probable cause finding. The accused is entitled to the representation of a defense attorney who can make arguments against a finding of probable cause. Most of the time, however, a judge will find that probable cause exists and bond/bail will be set, and a future court date will be set for further proceedings in the case.

Contact an Attorney for Help With Your Case

If you’ve been indicted, it is critical you contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will be familiar with the court and criminal procedures and help you navigate the criminal defense process to achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

The attorney will work to lessen a potential sentence or fight for an acquittal if you have been wrongfully accused or wrongfully charged. They also can look for errors in the Indictment, as well as any suppression issues which might exist. 

Contact Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers for a free consultation at (619) 357-4977 with a San Diego criminal defense lawyer.