What is an Indictment?
An Indictment is a written accusation. It is a document that charges a person with a crime or crimes and usually at least one of the crimes charged is a felony offense. This Indictment is signed by the prosecuting attorney and the grand jury foreperson.
How Is A Person Indicted?
A prosecuting attorney presents evidence and witnesses to the grand jury and ultimately asks the grand jurors whether – based on that evidence – it is reasonably likely that a crime was committed by the defendant. If 12 members of the grand jury vote yes, agreeing that it is reasonably likely a crime was committed, the Grand Jurors hand up what is called a “true bill,” which is another name for an Indictment.
What Is A Grand Jury?
A grand jury is a panel of 16-23 citizens chosen from your community participating in “jury duty.” The role of Grand Jurors is to determine whether there is enough evidence to charge a person with a formal criminal charge.
The grand jury acts as a safeguard to ensure that police and district attorneys do not unilaterally charge and prosecute a person for a serious crime without some input from neutral citizens. The grand jury therefore requires at least 12 citizens to agree it is reasonably likely the person committed a crime before that person can be prosecuted.
If 12 citizens on a grand jury do not think it is reasonably likely a crime was committed, a “no bill” is voted and the charge is dismissed.
Is the Presentation to a Grand Jury Public?
No. Unlike a trial, where a jury of citizens hears a case in a very public courtroom with judges and lawyers and spectators, a Grand Jury is not public at all. In fact, Grand Juries are conducted in secret, and if a member of the Grand Jury discloses things learned in secret, the Grand Juror can be charged with a felony. There are no judges in a Grand Jury, nor is there a defense attorney, and there are certainly no spectators. Within a Grand Jury is the prosecuting attorney, a stenographer, and 16-23 citizens sworn to secrecy.
What Types of Crimes Can Be Charged In An Indictment By A Grand Jury?
In New York, there are three different types of offenses:
Violations are the least serious, felonies are the most serious.
Because felonies are the most serious, the United States Constitution and the New York Constitution protect defendants, and require a grand jury to hear evidence and determine whether evidence is sufficient to charge a defendant with a felony.
Can I Be Charged With A Felony Before Indictment?
Yes. In fact, most people are charged with felonies before they are indicted. For example, if a police officer witnesses someone breaking into a home, the officer will arrest that person and charge them with burglary, a felony. But before the burglar can be prosecuted for the felony – have their case go to trial – the case must first be presented to the grand jury.
What is a Sealed Indictment?
A sealed indictment simply means that a person has not already been charged with a felony. If the grand jury votes to indict someone who has not previously been charged, that indictment is a sealed indictment. This is often done in cases involving ongoing investigations, or white collar crimes, where the prosecuting attorney does not want to alert the defendant to potential charges. When the Court opens the indictment, and reads the charges, the indictment is unsealed.
Have you been charged with a criminal offense?
LaMarche Safranko Law has been representing people charged with serious criminal offenses for nearly 20 years. If you have been charged with a crime, contact us today to discuss your charges.