Have you ever heard of someone getting charged with a crime, only to find out later that they were actually indicted? What does this even mean?
Many people use the terms "charged" and "indicted" interchangeably, but in legal terms, there is a big difference between the two.
In short, being charged means an individual is accused of committing a crime, whereas being indicted means that a grand jury has found enough evidence to formally charge them with the said crime.
Understanding this difference not only makes the legal process clear but also has important effects on the rights of a defendant. If you need help knowing the difference then do not hesitate to call and speak to a dedicated Greenville criminal defense lawyer today!
Let's examine these two terms more closely.
When a person is charged with a crime (formerly called a "criminal charge"), it typically happens at the time of arrest or soon after. A police officer or prosecutor will file charges based on their observations and evidence collected during an investigation. Normally, a person charged with a crime will, within a reasonable time, appear before a judge for an arraignment, where they enter their plea (guilty or not guilty) and may be assigned bail.
So, three key issues stand out from this: arrest, bail, and arraignment. Let's consider these in more detail.
An individual must first be arrested by law enforcement before being charged with any of the criminal offenses listed in the law. An arrest can occur based on probable cause or with a warrant. Probable cause means that the officer has sufficient evidence to believe that the person committed a crime. A judge signs an arrest warrant if they also think there is a good reason to arrest the person.
The practice is that after arrest, the accused is taken into custody - at the police station where they are booked and charged with a crime. Depending on the circumstances of the arrest, there may be more than one charge - such as misdemeanor charges, capital crimes, federal charges, felony charges, etc.
Under criminal procedure law, the arraignment after an arrest is usually commenced through a formal prosecution or a formal process involving the filing of charges by the offense prosecutor, i.e., prosecuting authority.
At the arraignment hearing, the individual charged with a crime enters their plea of guilty or not guilty, depending on the nature of the crime in question. They may also negotiate a plea bargain or plea deal with the prosecutor at this time. This must be a plea in writing. If the crime is amenable to a plea bargain, the accused will enter their plea, and bail may be set. The judge will also look at the charges against the accused and make sure their constitutional rights are respected.
A person charged with a crime has the right to a qualified attorney or lawyer during this process, who is referred to as "Defense Counsel." This criminal defense attorney must be involved in the pretrial plea bargaining or represent the accused at the preliminary hearing, the arraignment, and the full criminal prosecution process. If the accused can't pay for or find a private lawyer, a public defender will be put in charge of their case to defend them against the alleged crime.
During the arraignment, the judge will also determine whether or not to grant bail. Bail is the amount of money that must be paid for the accused individual to be released from jail before their trial. Where there is a bail bondsman or any bail bond agent involved, they will post bail on behalf of the accused in exchange for a fee.
Bail is given to make sure that the accused person will show up to their court dates. In other words, bail ensures that the accused appears in court. It acts as a sort of contract—if they do not show up for court dates, the money for bail will be forfeited. And a warrant of arrest will be issued for their re-arrest.
An indictment is a formal charge that is issued by a grand jury. A grand jury comprises members of the community who review the evidence presented by the prosecutor. In the indictment proceedings, the accused individual does not have the right to a lawyer during this process. As such, the accused person cannot be present during deliberations by the grand jury.
If the grand jury finds enough evidence to support the prosecution's case, they will issue a formal indictment. This means that the accused will now stand trial for the crime they have been charged with.
During the indictment process, a grand jury will usually only issue a formal indictment if there is enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. However, it is possible for a grand jury to refuse to indict, even if the prosecutor believes there is enough evidence for a conviction.
Unlike a trial, the accused individual is not present during grand jury proceedings, and they do not have the right to a lawyer. The prosecutor presents evidence and may question witnesses. It's important to note that the defense does not get to present their side during this process. So, this means that the accused individual may not be aware of the evidence being presented against them and they cannot defend themselves during this process.
Why Question Witnesses?
It is typical for prosecutors, in the process of the indictment, to call witnesses during grand jury proceedings as they seek to build a strong case for the indictment. Witnesses may be called for a variety of reasons, including:
- To provide firsthand information or testimony about the alleged crime
- To establish evidence or corroborate statements
- To refute claims or statements made by other witnesses
- To provide expert testimony or analysis
- To establish a timeline of events leading up to the alleged crime.
The grand jury is made up of members of the community who review the evidence presented by the prosecutor to determine whether or not there is enough evidence for a trial. To put it simply, the grand jury decides whether or not to indict an individual for a crime.
During the grand jury deliberations to determine whether or not to issue an indictment, there could be several jury meetings to examine the indictment requirement before an informed decision can be made. This is critical because an indictment cannot happen without enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Grand jury proceedings also operate under a higher level of secrecy than a trial, as they are not open to the public. This helps protect the accused individual's right to a fair trial and prevents outside influences on the process.
However, it's important to note that the grand jury process can be controversial as the accused individual does not have their constitutional right to a lawyer (whether a private attorney or public defender) present during this process. And they are not able to defend themselves or present evidence in their favor. This can also lead to a potential bias against the accused as they are not able to be represented during this stage of the legal process.
It's important to remember that just because someone is charged or indicted does not necessarily mean they are guilty, it just means that there is enough evidence for the case to move forward. If during the jury hearing, it is established that there is enough evidence, there will be a jury indictment, which means that the accused individual's case will be taken to trial. During a trial, it is up to the jury to decide whether or not someone is guilty.
Ultimately, an indictment is a stronger accusation and carries more weight in the criminal justice system. However, being charged and indicted indicates that legal proceedings are underway and should be taken seriously. If you have been charged or indicted, you will want to contact our experienced criminal defense lawyers. At TF Law, we pride ourselves on working closely with our clients to ensure they get the best possible success in their cases.