In the context of a legal action, a presentment is a grand jury report to a court that there is enough evidence of a crime to hold someone for trial. A grand jury makes a presentment on its own initiative after making an investigation, without a request for an indictment by a prosecutor or ancillary to the presentation of evidence. The word also has a specific legal meaning in commercial transactions. It can refer to the demand for payment portion of a transaction when using a negotiable instrument, such as a check.
The U.S. is the only country with a legal system based on English common law that still uses the grand jury system to determine if there is enough evidence to put an accused person on trial. Grand juries are secret panels of people who meet outside of the judge’s purview and evaluate the evidence that supports the prosecutor’s case. This type of jury is typically empaneled as part of the ordinary course of court business and at the request of a prosecutor who wants to put someone on trial for a felony. If the grand jury believes there is enough evidence to hold a person over for trial, it issues an indictment.
A grand jury in the U.S. is not only restricted to hearing cases presented to it. Historically, a grand jury was also empaneled to investigate organized crime and government corruption. In these instances, the grand jury has broad authority to figure out if a crime had been committed and who should be charged. The report to the court as a result of this independent investigation would be called a presentment rather than an indictment.
Grand juries are still required to serve this independent investigatory function in the U.S. federal district court system. By statute, a grand jury must be impaneled every 18 months in every court district that serves more than four million people. This jury is still empowered to investigate organized crime and government corruption and to issue a presentment on its own initiative.
In another legal context, presentment refers to the demand for payment portion of a transaction based on a negotiable instrument. A check, or similar money substitute, is payable upon demand to the person indicated as the payee. When a payee presents a valid negotiable instrument to the bank or other institution upon which the instrument is drawn, the part of the transaction is called presentment, and the bank is obligated to pay by law.