indictment | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

An indictment is a formal charge issued by a grand jury stating that there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial; it is used primarily for felonies.

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An indictment is a formal charging document that is issued by a grand jury to formally accuse a defendant of committing a crime. This charging document is a critical step in the criminal justice process, as it initiates formal legal proceedings against the defendant and paves the way for a trial.

Indictments are typically used in cases involving serious crimes, such as felonies. The grand jury is responsible for evaluating the evidence presented by the prosecution and determining whether there is sufficient probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime in question. If the grand jury determines that there is enough evidence, they will issue an indictment, which formally charges the defendant with the crime.

Once an indictment has been issued, the defendant will be required to appear in court to face the charges. At this point, the defendant may enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will proceed to trial, where the prosecution will present evidence in support of their case, and the defendant will have the opportunity to present a defense.

The use of indictments has been a key feature of the American legal system for many years. This system is designed to ensure that criminal defendants are given due process and that they are not subjected to unjustified legal action. Indictments are typically issued by a grand jury, which is a group of citizens who are tasked with reviewing the evidence presented by the prosecution and determining whether there is sufficient evidence to support a formal charge.

In addition to providing a mechanism for formally charging defendants with crimes, indictments also serve other important purposes. For example, they help to protect defendants from unfair or arbitrary prosecution by requiring that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to justify the charges. They also provide defendants with important information about the specific charges they are facing, which can help them to prepare an effective defense.

Despite the importance of indictments in the criminal justice system, they have also been the subject of criticism and controversy. Some critics argue that indictments can be used as a tool of political persecution or that they can be used to pressure defendants into accepting plea bargains or other unfavorable outcomes. Others argue that the grand jury system can be biased or unfair, particularly in cases where the defendant is a member of a minority group.

Despite these criticisms, the use of indictments remains a critical part of the American legal system. By providing a formal mechanism for charging defendants with crimes, indictments help to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair, transparent, and based on solid evidence.

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Last Modified: 06/29/2021


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