What is an Indictment?

If you’ve been paying even the slightest attention to the news lately, you’ve probably heard a lot of talk about indictments. While you may know that an indictment has something to do with the law, you may not know exactly what it is. What is an indictment? What does it me to be indicted? When can a person be indicted? Our San Diego criminal defense attorneys answer these important questions.

Understanding Indictments

The Fifth Amendment states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury….” So, an indictment is basically a formal accusation by a grand jury that a person has committed a serious crime. Indictments are required at the federal level for all felony offenses. While states are not required to use indictments in criminal matters, many states, including California, do.

What is a Grand Jury?

California Grand Juries

A grand jury is an important part of the American criminal justice system. In California, each county has a separate grand jury to consider matters in that particular part of the state. The number of members on a particular grand jury depends on the population of the county in which the jury is seated.

In counties where the population exceeds 4 million people, such as Los Angeles County, there must be 23 members of a grand jury. In counties where the population does not exceed 20,000, such as Inyo County, there must be 11 members of a grand jury. Grand juries in all other counties, including San Diego County and San Bernardino County, must be comprised of 19 members.

Grand Jury Hearing

A grand jury hearing is basically a mini-trial. However, instead of proving that a person is guilty of a crime, the state simply tries to convince the members of the grand jury that there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges. The state will present evidence, testimony, and arguments to show the jury that probable cause exists to bring criminal charges against a person.

In California, there must be a preponderance of the evidence that the state has probable cause to believe a person is guilty of a crime. This simply means that evidence shows it is more likely than not true that a person is guilty. If the grand jury issues an indictment, the state will still have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Voting to Indict

If a grand jury believes that there is probable cause to believe a person committed a crime they can issue a document known as an indictment. However, in order to indict, there must be a supermajority in favor of indicting. At the federal level, 16 of the 23 grand jury members must vote in favor of indicting. In California, 14 of 23, 12 of 19, or 8 of 11 grand jury members must vote in favor of indicting. This is vastly different from the unanimous decision that must result in a formal criminal trial.

What Happens When You’re Indicted?

When the grand jury hands down an indictment a person is formally charged with a crime. Once this happens, additional criminal proceedings happen, beginning with an arraignment. At an arraignment, a defendant is advised of his rights, made aware of all criminal charges that have been filed against him, and given the opportunity to enter a plea.

The court may also determine whether a defendant will be released on his or her own recognizance, held in lieu of bail, or held in custody for the duration of the criminal proceeding. In complex cases, the court may prefer to order a bail hearing to determine the best possible way to handle a specific case.

The steps that follow will depend on the plea entered by the defendant.

Prepare to Fight Your Indictment

Are you being investigated on suspicion of committing a felony in San Diego, or have you been indicted by a California grand jury? If so, you need the help of an experienced San Diego criminal defense lawyer. Call the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC to find out how our legal team can help you minimize the consequences of your indictment.

Our San Diego criminal lawyers will investigate your alleged crime, review the grand jury findings, and determine where the state’s case against you is weakest. With this information in hand, we can devise a strategy to protect you from the consequences of a criminal conviction. Call us today to schedule your free case evaluation and learn more.