With all the legal jargon used in the judicial process, it can be difficult to know the definition of each term and, more importantly, the implications.
For example, there is a big difference between being indicted versus being convicted, although both terms are used in the criminal justice world in relation to criminal charges and involve different types of juries.
What Does it Mean to Be Indicted?
You probably hear the word “indictment” frequently on crime-solving television shows or the news, but you may not know the actual definition. To be indicted, or receive an indictment, means you are formally accused of or charged with committing a crime. The indictment contains basic information about the charges being leveled at you by the state.
An indictment against a person can be obtained even before an arrest is made, although in many felony cases, a grand jury of impartial citizens will determine whether to indict a defendant. The grand jury is not there to decide whether or not you committed the crime—only if there is enough evidence to make you stand trial. If the grand jury believes there is insufficient evidence, they can decide not to issue an indictment. Grand juries can be made up of 16 to 23 members, and at least 12 must be in favor of the indictment in order for formal charges to be brought against you. According to the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure, two or more people can be charged in the same indictment if the crimes are related to the same incident.
Indictments typically include multiple accusations, which are called counts. Later in the court proceedings, the judge can decide to throw out any charges that don’t have strong support without completely clearing you of all counts.
Being Convicted vs Being Indicted
While an indictment means you have been formally charged with a crime in Utah, a conviction means you have been found guilty of committing the crime. Once the indictment has established there is enough evidence to charge you with a crime, your case proceeds to a criminal trial.
During that process, the judge and jury will hear further evidence by the prosecution and the defense and deliver a verdict, which states whether they find you to be guilty or not guilty. You can be found guilty on certain charges or counts, but not on others. In criminal cases, the standard of proof to convict you of a crime is proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the highest standard of proof used in court. That means if the jury has any reasonable doubt about your guilt, you can be convicted of a crime.
In the United States, jury trials are a constitutional right. While the judge will still be involved in the case to rule on matters of the law—deciding what evidence is admissible or upholding or denying objections by the prosecution and defense—the jury is responsible for deciding on the facts of the case and determining the verdict. Judges may not overrule a jury that acquits a defendant, but they can throw out guilty verdicts. If you are found guilty, the judge will also determine your sentence according to applicable law.
Frequently Asked Questions on Indictment
What Does Federal Indictment Mean?
A federal indictment is the official legal action of bringing criminal charges for a crime or set of federal crimes. In the U.S. criminal justice system, federal prosecutors use indictments as the primary means of initiating the criminal trial process. The label “indictment” refers both to the legal action and the document used as the instrument for informing the accused and the judicial system of the charges brought against the defendant.
What Are the Parts of a Federal Indictment?
The federal indictment document can look different from one jurisdiction to the next, but some parts of its form and content are consistent throughout the country:
- The top of the document bears the identification of the district court with the pending case. Under the name of the court is the “caption” containing the names of the parties in the case and the case number. The caption also lists the “counts,” or charges against the accused.
Placeholders are sometimes entered when some names of people allegedly involved are not yet known, as in some conspiracy cases with potentially numerous people involved. Prosecutors like to include aliases for the accused too. A legal entity, such as a corporation, can also be listed as an accused party in an indictment.
- There is normally an account of the alleged offense following the caption, often written in numbered paragraphs. This section of the indictment describes more specifically the crimes that the defendants are alleged to have committed. An introduction may be included that provides background information about the defendants and possibly other people relevant to the case. If the information provided in the indictment is insufficient, a defense attorney may need to file a motion for a “bill of particulars,” which provides more details. If you have been indicted, consult a Utah criminal defense attorney to help you clearly understand the indictment and its ramifications and to build the best possible case on your behalf.
How Do Prosecutors Obtain Federal Indictments?
Only a grand jury can return (bring) a federal indictment against the accused parties. A grand jury is a group of 16 to 23 U.S. citizens selected from the local community. They hear witness testimony, examine other evidence the prosecution presents, and they can ask questions, and subpoena documents and witnesses.
After the grand jury considers all the evidence, they determine whether there is probable cause to find the defendant guilty, and they then vote to indict or not. A quorum must be present and a minimum of 12 grand jury members must vote to indict, for charges to be brought. The defense cannot present evidence or dispute the prosecution’s evidence before the grand jury.
For an indictment, there must be merely sufficient evidence for reasonable people to believe the accused has committed a crime. This standard is far lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is needed to win a conviction.
Can the Indictment Be Amended to Charge Different or New Crimes?
Once issued by a grand jury, an indictment cannot be “amended,” per se. However, prosecutors often do change the crimes with which the accused is charged and/or add new charges during the criminal indictment process. They accomplish these changes by superseding the original indictment with a new indictment through a grand jury again.
The superseding indictment can include new charges, add more charges, add new defendants, and contain other information different from the original. A superseding indictment returned by a grand jury replaces the original indictment.
What Information Must a Federal Indictment Contain?
U.S. Constitutional law requires that a person accused of a crime is provided with sufficient information about the cause and the nature of the alleged offense. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that prosecutors must obey requires accusations in indictments to state facts that constitute a federal crime if they are true.
Additionally, precedents established through prior court decisions in prior cases influence the requirements for inclusions in the contents of indictments. For example, cases like the Supreme Court’s decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey (530 U.S. 466) can impact sentencing and must be included in the indictment.
What Is a Speaking Indictment? Why Do I Need to Be Aware of It?
A speaking indictment is more highly detailed and provides more information than the law requires. Prosecutors determine the amount of information they want to include in an indictment. But, criminal defense attorneys may make a motion to have information stricken from the document if it involves allegations that are needlessly prejudicial to the jury.
A speaking indictment can potentially benefit the defense of the accused person by revealing the prosecution’s overall view of the case. On the other hand, a judge might permit the jury to read copies of the speaking indictment — and exposing them to the prosecutor’s version of the case could have a prejudicial effect on them.
If you face federal charges presented in a speaking indictment, you need an experienced Utah criminal defense lawyer. Work with a Salt Lake City defense attorney with a track record of successfully building cases that are to the defendants’ best advantage in such situations.
Can a Federal Indictment Be Challenged?
Yes, the most common way to challenge the indictment during the trial is, of course, to attempt to disprove the allegations it asserts. An indictment can also be challenged before the trial begins. For example, the validity of an indictment can be challenged for the following or other reasons. The indictment:
- Does not actually assert a violation of the law.
- Alleges commission of a crime at a time that is past the statute of limitations.
- Does not plead all components necessary to constitute a crime.
- Does not contain enough clarity of the grounds and nature of the charges.
- Attempts to bring a federal criminal case to a venue that does not have jurisdiction.
Misconduct by the prosecutor, such as failing to the grand jury of law that applies in the case, is another reason for challenging an indictment.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer frequently asserts challenges to indictments to cause prosecutors to be compelled to produce more evidence or to present evidence sooner than they would have been required.
The Wasatch Defense Lawyers Can Help You Fight Your Criminal Conviction in Utah
If you have been charged with or indicted on a crime in Utah, you have a right to legal counsel. Our team of Top-Rated Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wasatch Defense Lawyers, based out of Salt Lake City, is ready to come alongside you and work to reduce charges or obtain an acquittal.