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How does an indictment differ from a conviction?
Most legal cases are decided during a single trial, but this does not always happen. When a grand jury meets to review documentation and the testimonies of everyone involved, their sole purpose is to determine whether or not to bring an indictment against the individual in question. On the contrary, standard cases end with a ruling of "guilty" or "not guilty."
What is an indictment?
If charges have been pressed against you in any criminal manner, you will have the opportunity to have your day in court. However, if the federal government is involved or it is unclear whether or not charges should be filed, you may face a grand jury review. During this review, which can be thought of as a pretrial, the members of the grand jury are only faced with one task: determining whether or not there is enough evidence to press charges.
An indictment occurs when the grand jury establishes that enough evidence exists for the case to move forward. This does not mean that the person will eventually be convicted, though, because an indictment does not establish anyone’s guilt or innocence. Instead, being indicted merely means that there is enough evidence for the grand jury to believe that the case should be heard by a judge.
What is a conviction?
A conviction may be the eventual result of an indictment, but this cannot happen until after the case has been heard in a traditional courtroom. A grand jury does not have the authority or legal ability to convict anyone. However, a judge or a standard jury does have this authority, and this is why each person who has been indicted by a grand jury must next stand trial.
If you are convicted, this means that the judge or jury has found you guilty of committing a crime. In the U.S. legal system, it is necessary for guilt to be established beyond a reasonable doubt in order for a conviction to be issued. Unfortunately, each judge and jury is able to interpret the term “reasonable doubt” in their own way, which can lead to inconsistencies.
When someone is convicted of a crime, they have the right to ask for an appeal. It is important to note, though, that not every appeal request will be granted. In fact, if a new trial is granted through this process, the government has the right to appeal that trial before it even occurs. If they are successful, the convicted individual’s new trial can be canceled, which means that their original conviction will stand.
Are grand jury indictments used everywhere?
Grand juries are not typically used in countries outside of the U.S., and every state in the U.S. has its own guidelines about their usage. If you are involved in a federal felony case, you have the constitutional right to have a grand jury decide whether or not you should be indicted and face trial. State cases do not have to follow this portion of the Fifth Amendment, so it is highly possible that you will not go before a grand jury if the federal government isn’t involved. However, some cases, including those involving a police officer, are mandated by individual state laws that require the involvement of a grand jury. Either way, you cannot be convicted until you go through the standard trial process, and an indictment does not mean that you will be found guilty.
Due to the wide array of variables that can impact grand jury cases, it is always best to work with an experienced attorney. Keep in mind that legal counsel may not be able to prevent an indictment, but it can help you to understand the particulars of your case and prepare for your trial, if necessary.
Ultimately, your primary goal is to avoid a conviction. If you are able to go through the grand jury process without being indicted, you will not stand trial. However, it is important to note that statistics indicate that 99.99% of all grand jury cases end in an indictment. To put this into perspective, approximately 67% of all felony cases result in a conviction. This number may seem high, but it does mean that a third of the people who are indicted end up being found not guilty.