What is an Indictment?
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires the federal government to seek an indictment from a grand jury in order to prosecute someone for a felony or "otherwise infamous" crime. Since an indictment typically follows a grand jury decision but before an arrest, it may be "sealed" for a certain amount of time to prevent the defendant from fleeing, destroying evidence, or otherwise evading prosecution.
Since individual states are not required to use a grand jury to obtain felony indictments, those that do are allowed to make their own rules. State grand juries function in a similar manner to federal grand juries but tend to vary by the number of jurors and type of majority required to indicate a defendant.
What Does it Mean to be Charged With a Crime?
Being served with criminal charges means that the government has formally accused a person of a crime. A person charged with a crime is, by law, innocent until proven guilty. Being convicted of a crime means that the person has pleaded guilty or has been found guilty after trial. A person convicted of a crime is, by law, Guilty.
What is a Grand Jury?
The grand jury serves 2 main functions: to investigate and to protect citizens against unfounded criminal prosecutions.
In its investigative capacity, a grand jury can subpoena documents and witnesses. However, even when a grand jury issues subpoenas, it does not necessarily mean that criminal charges will be brought.
In its charging capacity, a grand jury determines whether there is enough evidence to constitute probable cause that a crime has been committed and to charge a person or organization with that crime. A grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence.
A grand jury indictment is required for all federal felonies; however, the defendant may waive the right to a grand jury indictment and have a judge make the probable cause determination.
What is a Probable Cause Affidavit?
The probable cause affidavit is a summary of the evidence and circumstances of an arrest. It is written by the arresting officer and given to a judge to review. A probable cause affidavit is required when an officer makes a “warrantless arrest,” which is when the officer arrests someone without getting permission from a judge first.
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