What is an Indictment: A Guide on Everything to Know and Expect

If you’ve ever watched any kind of police procedural show, you’ve probably learned everything you know about the criminal law procedural process from it. You see the suspect get arrested, Mirandized, and they’re in court soon after. But in reality, the process of trying someone for a crime is very different.

One of the first things that happens in this process is an indictment of a person for the crime. Read on to learn everything you need to know about indictments and exactly what they are.


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What Is an Indictment?

An indictment is a formal accusation, based upon available evidence, that a person has committed a serious crime. If there’s enough evidence to prove that a person committed a crime, then they’re indicted.

The most important thing to know about indictments is that they’re not required for every single crime. On a federal level, they’re only required for felonies who’ll be heard by federal courts.

States aren’t required to indict every person who they believe has violated the law. That said, many states have passed laws that require an indictment to charge someone with a felony crime. These states include Massachusettes, New York, Ohio, and Texas.

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The really confusing part is that an indictment can come at very different parts of the trial process.

Some jurisdictions pursue an indictment prior to placing someone under arrest, while others place someone under arrest, and then send the case out for indictment. Most of the time, a person will know that police are interested in them for a crime; it’s normally not something that takes someone by surprise.

Who Decides Whether to Indict?

In all but two states, a grand jury is who decides whether the state has enough evidence to charge someone with a crime. A grand jury is a body of people called by the prosecutor who looks at all available evidence in a case. They make a decision whether there’s enough evidence on hand to prove that a person committed a serious crime.

Grand juries are selected in a couple of different ways, depending on the jurisdiction.

Some jurisdictions’ grand juries are selected through invitation, meaning you have to know someone to sit on a grand jury. Other jurisdictions’ grand jury selections operate much like a standard jury selection; it’s completely random and all potential jurors are interviewed to make sure they’re not biased and have the capacity to serve.

Does an Indictment Mean I’m Guilty?

Whether you’re facing indictment or have already been indicted, that doesn’t mean you’ve been found guilty of a crime. All an indictment means is there was probable cause to charge you with a crime.

If you want to get technical about what probable cause means, we need to explore standards of evidence. In order to be convicted of a crime, the state must convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed a crime; essentially a greater than 99% chance you committed the crime. Probable cause falls below the preponderance of the evidence standard, which is a greater than 50% chance that someone did something.

Probable cause really just means based on the evidence that’s available, it’s reasonable for you to be charged with a crime. It’s not a high bar and is by no means a slam dunk for conviction.


Do I Have to Stay in Jail After Indictment?

It depends. There’s no hard and fast rule that covers whether or not someone must remain in jail after being indicted. This decision is made early in the trial process at a bond hearing.

A bond hearing is a where both the prosecution and the defense are present to argue whether someone should be released on bond, and how much it should be. The prosecution may request that the defendant not be released for a number of reasons, while the defense attorney will argue why the defendant should be released.

A few factors that go into a judge’s decision on bond include the risk to the community by releasing the defendant, and whether the defendant is a flight risk (due to being wealthy or having a history of not showing up for previous hearings). If someone’s very dangerous, they may not get released prior to trial or their bond will be set at a very high level to make paying it impracticable.

What Happens After Indictment?

After you’re indicted, then you’ll go to trial. Getting to trial, however, isn’t as cut and dry as it’s portrayed on television. There will be numerous pre-trial hearings, and depending on how busy the courts are in your state, it can be months or even years before you’ll ever make it before a jury.


If the prosecutor is amenable to working with you, your defense attorney may be able to work out a plea deal for you. A plea deal means that you plead guilty or no contest to the charges and serve a lesser punishment than you would’ve had if your case went to trial and you were convicted. Your attorney must bring every plea deal offered by the prosecution to you in order to make a decision on whether to accept.

Lastly, if you’re convicted of a crime, you have the right to appeal the conviction.

Stay Up-To-Date on the Latest in Criminal Law

What is an indictment? It’s probably the last thing you ever expect to happen to you. But it also means you’re on the hook for a crime you may or may not have committed.

The important thing to do when you or a loved one are indicted for a crime is to hire an attorney to help you navigate the criminal justice system. Even if you did commit the crime of which you’ve been accused, you still have a lot of rights that must be upheld through the trial process.

Want to stay up-to-date on the latest in criminal law and beyond? You’ve come to the right place. Check out the rest of our blog to stay in the know.

Comments 14

  1. Linda Houle says:

    my husband and I were pulled over due to the weather and our lane change. my registration wasn’t in the car the police then forced me out of the vehicle and due to sent of weed in the vehicle he then forced me out of the car, at that moment they got out their drug-sniffing dog and walked around the vehicle with the dog the dog it didn’t smell anything so the police officer then smacked the car and the dog started barking at that moment. put my husband in handcuffs and walked me to the rear of our vehicle and threw my husband into the police k-9 truck and looked at me and proceeded to our vehicle. I am unfortunately at the time I was an active user of drugs. so I had some stuff on me however it was in a safe in another zipped-up container. they did not ask permission to search the vehicle. they busted open the safe. the other male cop then looked at me told me to turn around and put my hands on the hood of the truck and proceeded to pat me down. Making me feel extremely uncomfortable. 30 minutes go by as I’m crying and my husband hollering for the cop to stop his dog from barking profusely in his ear. as the other cop comes out of the truck with my stash. they looked at me as I hollered out in embarrassment whatever it is it’s mine. in silence and disbelief not saying a word to one another but now feeling violated. its been 6 almost 7 months since and gratefully haven’t heard anything about it. Does sound like a normal way someone could be indicted or where we set up for an amazing scare? and how long should I be expecting an indictment to be issued for me?

  2. Sherry says:

    If a convicted felon gets arrested for having a fire arm is that mandatory time

  3. Tricia says:

    Can a juvenile be indicted on something and the charges be upgraded later

  4. samantha shelby says:

    I was arrested on a bench warrant at my house got to jail to find out why I was arrested cause I didn’t show to court on August the six ,on an indictment I knew nothing about they never arrested me on the indictment ,never came to my house nothing , got motion of discovery will not tell me nothing never gave me my indictment paper but a month after the arrest went to talk to a lawyer to see if court system could do this to me ,I mean if I was arrested on the indictment I would have come to court . They laughed at me said never met anyone records so clean I have never been arrested before ,the lawyer which did not know I was coming to his office gave me my indictment keeps bullying me to sign the papers not to fight it I will lose cause I’m very poor plus said I was stupid Hardin county Tennessee make their own rules if your poor you are very screwed I can’t get no lawyer to talk to me and just tell me the truth no they cannot do this which I had a dea say they can’t but I don’t what to do fight it or just give in pkz someone inform me I’m so very scared plus it has made my mental state worse like I wish I wasn’t here anymore ,plz any lawyer that’s not scared or money hungry I mean I’m waiting on my three stimulus checks a lawyer can have them and if I have a lawsuit from what I have been reading I can sue can have half of whatever just want a lawyer to tell me the truth fight or don’t fight

  5. melissa cox says:

    What is a F Indictement? criminal court

  6. Heather Ritter says:

    How many individuals can be named on an indictment? I’ve heard it’s a max of 99.

  7. Missy says:

    Ok, I was indicted on charges, but never got the chance to explain the charges. That they were not as the seemed. Can I do that at my first hearing? Will I automatically be arrested?

  8. clay willis says:

    lets say “bud” was arrested on a state jail felony, 10 days later bonded out. not one court hearing. 33 months later, bud gets a call from the bond company stating he has court coming up. Bud goes to court and is informed he has been indicted on a 3rd degree felony offense. offense date is same date as the state jail felony.

    • Scott says:

      This site has been helpful in learning more about indictment thank you

  9. Makayla Stephens says:

    Can a Grand Jury indict on “hear say”?

    For example, if I told the sheriff’s office “Todd” stole items from my house. But, I have no physical proof nor did anyone come & talk to “Todd” before they arrested him.

  10. Doug says:

    On a stay of imposition for felony domestic charges, how hard is an expungement?

  11. Timothy Walker says:

    How can a person get a fta when they didn’t know they were supposed to be in court but later was charged with a capias and a domestic assault charge also over something there x spouse said he or she did over a year ago and learn that a jury says that there’s enough evidence for a jury to decide if the defendant is guilty or not? Thanks n advance.

  12. April Holder says:

    Can the grand jury indict someone with out knowing their name

  13. Marcus says:

    If a grand jury didn’t indict…can they come back and indict …with same evidence they had the first time they didn’t indict

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