What Does It Mean to Be Indicted?
In an earlier post “The Grand Jury – What Does It Mean to be Indicted” we briefly mentioned the “indictment” and Grand Jury proceedings. Although most people have a working understanding of what the word “indictment” means and at the least have heard it used previously in news reports, television series and crime novels; most do not understand the integral role it plays in our complex legal system. It is therefore prudent to start from the ground up in understanding what an indictment is and the role it plays in the criminal legal practice.
To recap, the grand jury decides to issue an indictment if it believes there is sufficient evidence to charge someone with a crime. An indictment is the document setting forth such charges. To be specific, North Carolina General Statute 15A-641(a) defines the indictment as “a written accusation by a grand jury, filed with a superior court, charging a person with the commission of one or more criminal offenses.” Merrium-Webster Dictionary states the meaning quite simply as “an official written statement charging a person with a crime.”
The indictment cannot simply state the accused’s name and alleged crime. To be proper the indictment must include:
- 1) The name of the superior court in which it is filed;
- 2) The title of the action;
- 3) Criminal charges;
- 4) The signature of the prosecutor, although omission is not a fatal defect;
- 5) The signature of the foreman or acting foreman of the grand jury attesting to the concurrence of 12 or more grand jurors in the finding of a true bill of indictment.
North Carolina General Statute 15A-644(a)
The statutory requirements tend to be more procedural in form than function. Although the Grand Jury and Indictment processes were established to protect against abuses by the Crown. The reality is that rarely does the Grand Jury fail to find Probable Cause or a “Not True Bill.” Indeed, the saying a Grand Jury could “indict a ham sandwich” comes from the fact that many Grand Juries serve as little more than a rubber-stamp for the prosecution.
The true test for any indictment is whether or not it will meet the Constitutional requirements to place the accused on notice of the alleged crime. Fortunately, the Trial Jury is separate and apart from the Grand Jury. Where the Grand Jury hears only from the State and Law Enforcement whom possess the clear intent to prosecute and hold the belief that sufficient evidence exists so as to present a request for Indictment, the Jury in a trial is afforded the opportunity to hear all the evidence in a matter. . .including legal and factual issues that do not support the State’s case or otherwise support the innocence of the accused.
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires the accused be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation. This portion of the Constitution has been applied to each and every state through the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
North Carolina General Statute 15A-924 addresses the specific contents of the indictment that must be included in order to place an accused on notice of the alleged offense. The key to satisfying this requirement is that an indictment must allege lucidly and accurately all of the elements of the crime charged. State v. Hunt, 357 N.C. 257, 267 (2003).
The elements of a crime are all the facts that must be proven before an accused may be found guilty of a crime. They may also be referred to a prima facie evidence of an offense. North Carolina General Statute 15A-924 goes on to require that the indictment include the name of the accused, a statement indicating the county in which the crime was committed to establish jurisdiction, a simple and concise statement of the facts supporting the elements of the crime and a citation to the statute, rule, regulation, ordinance, or other provision of law alleged therein to have been violated.
It is easy to see that the dictionary and even statutory definitions of the indictment do little to fully capture of the important role it plays in the early stages of the criminal process within the courts. The indictment must conform to constitutional and statutory requirements to fully preserve a defendant’s right to Due Process. Such right so important that certain flaws and variations in the indictment can lead to the outright dismissal of criminal charges.
For more information regarding Indictments and What Does It Mean to Be Indicted in North Carolina, feel free to contact Powers Law Firm PA for a free initial consultation at 877-462-3841.