Indictment Process

The Indictment Process

If charged with a serious crime a defendant can expect to face an indictment. The indictment process is typically a two-part system.

During one part of the process, the defendant is officially advised of any criminal charges that are being brought against him and given the opportunity to request a court-appointed lawyer. While this occurs, a grand jury is meeting to listen to the evidence, concerning the charges, in order to decide if it should return the indictment “True Bill”. Bail also falls into this whole process, and an individual can expect to find out whether or not they can remain out on bail if they are already out.

The Grand Jury

Typically, a grand jury is composed of citizens from the jurisdiction where the charges are being brought. Generally, a grand jury meets in a room, separate from the courtroom, to hear the evidence supporting a charge. If the grand jury determines that probable cause exists they will return a True Bill. If the grand jury believes that probable cause is lacking, they will return an indictment “No Bill” and the charge will not go forward.

Probable Cause

Probable Cause is an evidentiary standard used to determine if it is more likely than not that the crime took place. If Probable Cause is found, it does not mean that a jury has found the defendant guilty. It means that the grand jury believes that a trial is warranted.

Special Indictments

Generally, each state has special indictments. The most common two variations are straight indictments (sometimes referred to as a direct indictment) and sealed indictments.

For felony charges, most states will have a preliminary trial to determine if probable cause exists to send a charge to a grand jury. If the prosecution decides to bypass this step, it will issue a straight indictment.

The prosecution may elect to straight indict if they need to quickly bring charges against a defendant. Alternatively, the prosecution may straight indict a defendant if probable cause is not found in a lower court preliminary hearing.

A sealed indictment bypasses a preliminary hearing and the charge is brought directly to a grand jury. The prosecution might use a sealed indictment in drug manufacturing and distribution cases. A sealed indictment is not accessible to the public and the names of any witnesses are kept secret until right before trial. This is utilized to protect the identities of confidential informants that will be witnesses at trial.

True Bill

If an indictment is returned a True Bill, then the grand jury has decided that a trial should occur. If the defendant does not have a lawyer, he can seek court-appointed counsel at this time. The defendant will often be assigned a trial date at this time. In most states, the defendant or the prosecution can request that the trial occur in front of a jury at this stage.

Ramifications for Bail

If a defendant is out on bail when he is indicted, unless he has violated the terms of the bail, it will most likely be continued over by the court; meaning that the defendant does not have to pay bail again to remain out of jail. If the defendant is the subject of a straight or sealed indictment, then a court will determine if the defendant is eligible to be bailed out of jail.

The judge will look at the charge brought against the defendant and see if a presumption against bail exists. If not, then the judge will look at the defendant’s criminal history. If the judge believes that the defendant is not a danger to himself or others and will attend all scheduled court dates, a bail will be granted.


If a defendant is granted bail and does not have or cannot afford to put up the entire amount, then a Bondsman may be hired. A Bondsman will provide the needed surety to the court. The defendant will pay the Bondsman, typically, ten percent of the bond amount. This functions as a non-refundable fee and is how a Bondsman gets paid.

The Bondsman is liable for the amount of the bond given to the court. If the defendant fails to show, the Bondsman will affect great efforts to find the defendant and return him to court. This may include utilizing the service of bounty hunters.

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