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What is a Grand Jury Indictment?

By Charity Delich
Updated May 16, 2024
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A grand jury indictment is a formal, written charge issued by a grand jury in a criminal case. Typically, the jury is charged with determining whether enough evidence exists to charge a suspect with a criminal offense. The jury usually consists of 12 average people who are randomly selected. The use of a grand jury indictment is intended to ensure that a prosecutor brings a case to trial only if there is probable cause to support the crime was committed by a suspect.

Historically, a grand jury indictment was used for determining whether to bring criminal charges in a number of common law countries. For example, England, Australia, and Canada all used grand juries during the twentieth century. In modern times, such indictments occur primarily in the United States. Only some of the states, however, still use these indictments in prosecuting crimes. They are also used in the United States if federal charges are brought in a criminal case.

By and large, grand juries decide whether enough evidence exists for a suspect to be taken to trial. Grand jury proceedings are usually required to be kept confidential. In most grand jury indictment proceedings, a prosecutor presents evidence in the form of witness testimony. As a general rule, the prosecutor can subpoena any potential witness to provide testimony without showing that the witness is likely to have relevant information about the crime. Certain types of witnesses, such as a spouse or the suspect’s criminal lawyer, can sometimes claim a specific privilege in order to avoid answering the prosecutor’s questions.

Typically, the suspect and his or her criminal attorney are not present during the grand jury testimony. As a result, they usually do not have the opportunity to present any conflicting evidence. If a suspect wishes to testify, however, a prosecutor may permit the testimony.

If the grand jury determines that the case may be brought to trial, they issue a “true bill” decision, and the suspect is formally charged with the alleged crime. A “no true bill” decision is issued when the jury decides insufficient evidence exists for a criminal trial. The grand jury indictment itself is usually drafted by the prosecutor and simply approved by the jury. If a grand jury fails to indict a suspect, a prosecutor may try to indict the suspect again, using a second grand jury, although this practice is uncommon.

Jurisdictions that no longer use grand jury indictments in charging a crime usually have a preliminary hearing. At the hearing, the prosecution presents evidence relating to the crime to a criminal law judge. The judge then determines whether sufficient evidence exists for trial.

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Discussion Comments

By anon996664 — On Sep 25, 2016

A lot of people have to go through the pain and cost of defending themselves because 12 individuals do not ask common sense questions of the DA. There are always three sides to every story: my side, your side, and the truth.

By anon277179 — On Jun 28, 2012

Am I entitled to look at grand jury indictment transcripts?

By anon245277 — On Feb 04, 2012

How can someone find out if a case was presented to the grand jury? Can a defendant find that out? I believe my case was presented and denied buy the jury and was recently re presented.

By BrickBack — On Oct 11, 2010

Mutsy-I think that I remember that case. Bernard Goetz was a previous mugging victim that was traumatized by the experience and decided to carry a gun with him even though he did not have a license.

On the subway, four men that wanted to rob him, horrified by this, Goetz decides to shoot all four men and eventually paralyzing one of them, that harassed him.

These men where serial robbers that were looking to rob some businesses, but on the train ride they blocked Goetz and continued to harass him. Many people saw these acts as vigilante justice and people who were tired of the high crime rate actually empathized with Goetz.

In fact after all of the potential indictments that the prosecutor was looking for, the grand jury only felt that the illegal gun charge was sufficient. They decline the attempted murder charge. This was the only state grand jury indictment that he received.

By mutsy — On Oct 11, 2010

Cupcake15-In the grand jury process there are usually fifteen to twenty-three jurors and only twelve have to agree in order to receive an indictment.

A unanimous vote is not necessary. Most prosecutors actually prefer using a grand jury for indicting the defendant because they do not have to offer much evidence and build their case against the defendant.

In the case People v Goetz the grand jury only indicted Goetz on having an illegal firearm of which he eventually served less than a year in prison.

What happens after a grand jury indictment is that the defendant is officially charged with a crime and a preliminary hearing is given so that the defendant can face the charges in person for the first time. This is really the start of the criminal trial.

By cupcake15 — On Oct 11, 2010

Subway11-You really have to define grand jury indictments as the prosecutor offering the minimal evidence in order to get an indictment and serve the defendant with these papers.

Although the defendant is not present at the time of the grand jury proceedings, they are entitled to a copy of the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings so that their crime attorney can adequately defend him or her.

By subway11 — On Oct 11, 2010

A grand jury subpoena is the beginning of the grand jury indictment process. A prosecutor will issue a grand jury subpoena in order to collect evidence for the upcoming case.

This is usually done because the prosecutor suspects an element of criminal behavior and wants to capture that evidence to build a case.

Usually the prosecutor will present the minimal evidence necessary to the grand jury. These proceedings currently benefit the prosecutor because the proceedings are done in secret and the defendant is not present with evidence and testimony is presented against him or her.

If the grand jury feels that the case is worthy of going to trial then they say that this is a true bill and the defendant is officially charged and will receive the grand jury indictment.

If the grand jury feels that there is insufficient evidence for a grand jury federal indictment then it returns a no bill status and the indictment does not go forward. The prosecutor can still open up the case when they gather more evidence.

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