indictment

indictment

[in-dahyt-muhnt]
indictment, in criminal law, formal written accusation naming specific persons and crimes. Persons suspected of crime may be rendered liable to trial by indictment, by presentment, or by information. An indictment is issued by a grand jury when the jury's investigation is initiated by the public prosecutor's presentment of a bill of indictment. A presentment is an accusation issued by the grand jury on its own knowledge, without any bill of indictment having been previously drawn up by the prosecutor. An information is an accusation presented directly by the prosecutor without consideration by a grand jury. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution safeguards the right to a preliminary hearing by a grand jury in major federal cases. It provides in effect that no person outside military service may be tried in a federal court for a capital "or otherwise infamous" (i.e., a felony) crime except on indictment or presentment. Fewer than half of the states similarly require grand jury action. When an indictment or presentment is approved, the foreman of the grand jury marks it "true bill." Indictments, presentments, and informations are similar to the plaintiff's complaint in a civil action (see procedure).

In criminal law, a formal written accusation of a crime affirmed by a grand jury and handed up to the court for trial of the accused. In the U.S., the indictment is one of three principal methods of charging offenses, the others being the information (a written accusation resembling an indictment, prepared and presented to the court by a prosecuting official) and, for petty offenses, a complaint by the aggrieved party or by a police officer. An indictment may contain several counts.

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In the common law legal system, an indictment ((in-DITE-mint)) is a formal accusation of having committed a criminal offense. In those jurisdictions which retain the concept of a felony, the serious criminal offense would be a felony; those jurisdictions which have abolished the concept of a felony often substitute instead the concept of an indictable offence, i.e. an offence which requires an indictment.

Traditionally an indictment was handed up by a grand jury, which returned a "true bill" if it found cause to make the charge, or "no bill" if it did not find cause. Most common law jurisdictions (except for much of the United States) have abolished grand juries.

Australia

In Australia, an indictment is issued by a government official (the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, or one of their subordinates). A magistrate then holds a committal hearing, which decides whether the evidence is serious enough to commit the person to trial.

Brazil

In Brazil an indictment is called denúncia and is issued by the public prosecutor, a member of the Public Ministry. In case of less serious offenses, the indictment may be filed by a private party and is called queixa.

England and Wales

In England and Wales (except in private prosecutions by individuals) an indictment is issued by the public prosecutor (in most cases this will be the Crown Prosecution Service on behalf of the Crown, i.e. the monarch, presently Queen Elizabeth II--who is nominally the plaintiff in all public prosecutions under English law. This is why a public prosecution of a man called Mr. Smith would be referred to as "R v Smith" (short for "Regina against Smith", Regina being Latin for Queen).

United States

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States states in part: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger..."

In many (though not all) U.S. jurisdictions retaining the grand jury, prosecutors often have a choice between seeking an indictment from a grand jury, or filing a charging document directly with the court. Such a document is usually called an information, accusation, or complaint, to distinguish it from a grand jury indictment. To protect the suspect's due process rights in felony cases (where the suspect's interest in liberty is at stake), there is usually a preliminary hearing where a judge determines if there is probable cause that the charged crime was committed by the suspect in custody. If the judge finds such probable cause, he or she will bind or hold over the suspect for trial.

The substance of an indictment or other charging instrument is usually the same, regardless of the jurisdiction: it consists of a short and plain statement of the time, place and manner in which the defendant is alleged to have committed the offense. Each offense is usually set out in a separate count. Some indictments for complex crimes, particularly those involving conspiracy or numerous counts, can run to hundreds of pages, but many indictments, even for crimes as serious as murder, consist of a single sheet of paper.

Indictable offenses are normally tried by jury, unless the accused waives the right to a jury trial. The Sixth Amendment mandates the right of having a jury trial for any criminal offense punishable by imprisonment for more than six months. Notwithstanding the existence of the right to jury trial, the vast majority of criminal cases in the U.S. are resolved by the plea bargaining process.

Sealed Indictment

An indictment can be sealed so that it stays non-public until it is unsealed. This can be done for a number of reasons. It may be unsealed, for example, once the named person is arrested or has been notified by police.

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