To receive an indictment is to be formally accused of committing a crime. Indictments can occur suddenly, and without the defendant being aware that they were the suspect of a crime. Indictments are usually the prelude to full criminal trials. If the crimes that the person is charged with are severe, then the legal punishments can also be severe if they are found guilty. As such, many people often have questions about indictments, the indictment process and the implications of indictments. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions.

1. What are the requirements for an indictment?

To be indicted, a person must be suspected of committing a federal crime. Additionally, a grand jury must review the charge and decide if there is enough evidence to pursue a criminal trial against the person in federal court. If the grand jury decides that there is enough evidence, then the indictment will occur and the accused will be forced to face a criminal trial.

2. Does an indictment automatically mean that the person is guilty?

No, if you are indicted, you are still innocent until proven guilty; the prosecution will still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did, in fact, commit the crime and are responsible for it.

3. How is an indictment different to a verdict?

An indictment is only the verification that a grand jury has decided that there is enough evidence to charge a person with a crime. It does not reflect the jury's final opinion of whether or not the person is guilty at the end of the trial. Indictments occur before the trial begins.

Verdicts, on the other hand, are the final decision of the jury. They reveal whether or not the jury finds the defendant innocent or guilty. Verdicts determine whether or not the defendant will be held responsible for the crime and whether or not they will face punitive consequences such as jail time.

4. Are indictments only required for federal crimes?

Yes, only the federal government is required by the Constitution to make formal grand jury-approved indictments for felony crimes. State governments do not have to go through this process to charge someone with a felony.

5. Can indictments be changed after they have been approved by the grand jury?

Once a grand jury has given its approval for an indictment, that indictment is final. This means that a lawyer or a judge cannot alter the indictment without the grand jury's approval.

However, attorneys or judges can request that a grand jury approve proposed changes to an indictment. But, in such cases, the proposed changes to the indictment will only be legitimate if the grand jury approves of them. In such cases, the new amended indictment would be called a superseding indictment.

6. How are grand juries selected for indictments?

Grand juries are selected from ordinary members of the public, just like they are for state court cases. They are designed to be a jury of peers.

7. What happens after a person is indicted?

After a person is indicted, they will stand trial for the accused crime. If they are found guilty, then they will face the legal consequences. However, if they are found innocent, then they will be released from all charges.

8. How is an indictment different from criminal information?

Both indictments and criminal information are used to formally notify a person that they have been accused of a crime and will be forced to stand trial. However, while criminal information does not require approval from a grand jury, indictments do. Also, criminal information can be used for misdemeanors but not for federal felonies.

Federal felonies are required by the Fifth Amendment to have indictments from grand juries. This prevents criminal information from being used in such cases.

9. Can you challenge a federal indictment before the trial begins?

Yes, there are several circumstances where it would be acceptable to challenge an indictment pre-trial. These circumstances include but are not limited to the following:

  • If the indictment fails to describe how the defendant actually broke the law.
  • If the indictment does not accurately describe the charges against the defendant.
  • If the statute of limitations for the accused crime have expired.