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What Does Indictment Mean?

Indictment Meaning and Definition in Law

Indictment In North Carolina An indictment in North Carolina is a formal charge or accusation of a serious crime. It signifies the initiation of criminal proceedings against an individual accused of wrongdoing. The indictment definition in law specifies that if the Grand Jury determines there is sufficient evidence of a crime (probable cause) it issues a True Bill of Indictment.

A “True Bill” establishes, as a matter of law, there is sufficient evidence to charge the individual with a specified crime and proceed forward with criminal prosecution. That does not mean the accused is guilty. It is a relatively complicated and technical legal standard that deserves the attention of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Awaiting Indictment Meaning

The term "awaiting indictment" refers to the period when a suspect is waiting for the grand jury to review evidence and decide whether to formally charge them with a crime. This stage is critical in the criminal justice process, as it determines whether the case will proceed forward, possibly to trial. If the Grand Jury decides not to indict, the District Attorney would then have to decide whether to attempt to continue criminal prosecution. Double Jeopardy does not apply to indictments. As such, the prosecutor may again attempt to obtain an indictment at a later time.

What Does the Word Indictment Mean?

With regard to criminal charges in North Carolina, an indictment is a formal accusation or charge of a crime. It may involve a serious crime, such as a felony in NC, although misdemeanor charges, including DWI - DUI can also be “indicted” in certain circumstances.

If a Grand Jury indicted someone, that means they have found Probable Cause to believe a criminal offense has occurred. The etymology of the word indict is based on the Latin word indicere, which means to proclaim, pronounce, or utter.

For example, if there are “three counts” of a certain charge, ordinarily that would mean the Grand Jury believed three separate criminal offenses took place and issued a True Bill of Indictment as a result.

Charge vs. Indictment

Understanding the difference between a charge and an indictment is crucial. A charge is a formal accusation made by law enforcement, indicating that an individual is suspected of committing a crime. An indictment, on the other hand, comes from a grand jury and signifies that there is enough evidence to go to trial.

Does an Indictment Mean You're Guilty?

It's important to note that an indictment does not mean the accused is guilty. It simply means that enough evidence exists to charge the individual with a crime. The accused remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

The Role of the Grand Jury

The grand jury plays a pivotal role in the indictment process. This group of citizens is convened to review evidence presented by the prosecutor and decide whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed. If they determine there is sufficient evidence, the grand jury indicts the accused. That is accomplished through a True Bill of Indictment in North Carolina.

Presenting Evidence to the Grand Jury

The prosecution presents evidence and witnesses to the grand jury, which then evaluates whether the evidence warrants an indictment. This process is conducted in secret to protect the accused's reputation and the integrity of the investigation.

The Decision to Plead Guilty or Not Guilty

After an indictment, as series of steps may take place in court, including possibly Bond Hearings, Arraignment, and Pretrial Motions. At the arraignment, the defendant must enter a plea. A guilty plea means the accused admits to committing the crime, often leading to a sentencing hearing. A not guilty plea means the accused denies the charges, and the case will proceed to trial where both sides will present their evidence.

Grand Jury vs a Jury Trial: What’s the Difference

The function of the Grand Jury in our NC criminal justice system is very different from that of a trial jury. Grand jurors, in issuing a “true bill” and a grand jury indictment against you, make no finding of guilt.

Put simply, grand jury hearings don’t answer the question, “Is the Defendant guilty or not guilty?” Instead, grand juries are involved in the beginning stages of criminal prosecution and decide if there is enough evidence to move forward with criminal charges and bring a case to trial.

Generally speaking, the person alleged to have broken the law is not involved in the process. Indeed, grand jury proceedings are secretive in nature.

Grand Jury Indictments: What is the Legal Standard?

In Grand Jury proceedings, after hearing the District Attorney’s evidence, is called to determine whether the person accused of criminal wrongdoing should be indicted.

In North Carolina, the standard of proof required for an indictment is "probable cause." This means that the grand jury must find that there is enough evidence to reasonably believe that a crime has been committed and that the accused person is likely responsible for that crime.

"This standard is significantly lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard required for a conviction at trial."

- Bill Powers, Criminal Defense Lawyer

"Probable cause" does not require that the evidence be overwhelming or that it eliminate all doubt, but rather that it is sufficiently convincing to lead a reasonable person to believe that the accused committed the alleged offense.

The role of the grand jury in this process is to review the evidence presented by the prosecution and decide whether it meets this threshold of probable cause for an indictment. This review is part of the pre-trial process and is not a determination of the accused's guilt or innocence, but rather a decision about whether there is enough evidence to justify proceeding to trial.

What Does Indicted Mean?

Being indicted only means that a “true bill” (a True Bill of Indictment) was issued by the Grand Jurors. It does not mean the person defendant, the person accused of breaking the law, has been found guilty.

In fact, under our system of justice, the defendant is entitled to a jury trial of his or her peers. A Grand Jury proceeding is not a Trial by Jury. That’s true for both a federal grand jury and a grand jury convened in STATE COURT by a District Attorney in the jurisdiction where the criminal activity allegedly took place.

Does the Defendant Testify?

The Defendant ordinarily does not testify. As such, grand juries do not get to hear the accused’s side of the story.

It is a one-sided affair.

There are not legal or factual arguments made by a criminal defense attorney.

"Only members of the grand jury may be present when voting on whether to issue a True Bill of Indictment."

- Bill Powers, Criminal Defense Attorney

It’s unlikely a North Carolina criminal defense attorney would want you to testify in most indictable cases.

As such, the typical indictment means that the person who is being investigated has a very limited opportunity to be heard or even have his criminal attorney present.

Who May Call Witnesses Before Grand Jury?

The NC criminal laws limit who may present during grand jury proceedings.

Consistent with NC Criminal Law 15A-626, in North Carolina Grand Jury proceedings, there is no right to appear or testify without the consent of the prosecutor (the District Attorney) or judge.

If the Grand Jury finds there to be sufficient evidence to support a criminal charge, they will issue a True Bill. Sometimes people confuse the term, thinking it’s called an indicment, rather than indictment.

An indictment, from the common law system of justice, serves as a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In jurisdictions that maintain the concept of felonies, the most serious criminal offense is a felony.

What Does Indict Mean?

An indictment by the grand jury allows a prosecutor to take felony criminal charges directly to trial against the indicted defendant. An indictment only requires a concurrence of at least 12 members of the grand jury in NC.

North Carolina General Statute 15A-623(a). A “true bill” does not need to be made by a unanimous vote of all grand jurors, unlike trial juries in criminal cases in North Carolina.

What is a Waiver of Probable Cause? Indictment Can Be Waived by Your Criminal Defense Attorney

In North Carolina, three ways exist by which the state may legally proceed to criminal trial in Superior Court with state felony criminal charges:

  • Hold a Probable Cause Hearing – At a probable cause hearing, District Court Judge determines, after listening to evidence in open court, whether Probable Cause exists to move forward with felony charges. If probable cause is found, the Judge transfers the matter to the Superior Court in the county where the alleged crime occurred.
  • Waiver of Probable Cause – On the advice of experienced legal counsel (criminal defense lawyers), the Defendant may voluntarily waive (give up) the right to a have a Probable Cause Hearing (sometimes called a “preliminary hearing”) and allow the criminal charges to be directly taken to the North Carolina Superior Court for trial or disposition in the county where the crime was committed. By waiving a probable cause hearing, the accused defendant who is not in custody (not in jail) may avoid being re-arrested and having to go through the process of posting bond if later indicted by a Grand Jury.
  • Grand Jury Indictment – An indictment, also known as a True Bill or True Bill of Indictment, is issued by the Grand Jury, which allows the charges to proceed directly to Superior Court for a trial. Like a Probable Cause Hearing before a District Court Judge, the Grand Jury hears evidence, normally in secret, and determines the existence of Probable Cause. If Probable Cause is found, the Grand Jury issues a “True Bill of Indictment.” If the Grand Jury has questions, they may send the matter back to the prosecuting attorney’s office (the District Attorney) for additional inquiry. The Grand Jury may also issue a “Not True Bill.”
Should You Hire a Lawyer? Before Being Indicted, Retain an NC Criminal Defense Lawyer

Hiring a lawyer before an indictment can be crucial in navigating the complexities of the legal system effectively.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide invaluable guidance during investigations, helping to protect your rights and interests from the outset.

Defense lawyers offer strategic advice on how to interact with law enforcement and potential witnesses against you, helping ensure that you do not inadvertently compromise your legal position.

Furthermore, criminal lawyers may want to begin gathering evidence and building a defense strategy early, which can be pivotal in the event of an indictment.

Lastly, having legal representation can alleviate the stress and uncertainty that often accompany legal proceedings, allowing you to focus on other important aspects of your life while your attorney handles the legal complexities.

Legal troubles can disrupt every aspect of your personal and business life.

"Your case deserves a criminal defense lawyer who has substantial practical courtroom experience."

- Bill Powers, Criminal Defense Lawyer

When you are being investigated for a felony that could be going before a Grand Jury, we think it’s smart to immediately retain an experienced criminal defense attorney NC.

How Do Criminal Lawyers Help?

Indictment In North Carolina Criminal defense lawyers explain your legal rights, advise what options exist for you, and explain the different ways to prepare for and try to avoid an indictment in North Carolina.

At Powers Law Firm PA, our criminal defense attorneys are experienced in handling criminal investigations, responding to law enforcement questions and inquiries, indictments, and the indictment process in North Carolina.

For indictable felonies, the legal process can be particularly confusing, with the involvement of a grand jury indictment. That is why it is vitally important to know your options ahead of time.

If you have questions, our criminal defense lawyers at Powers Law Firm PA would be honored to speak with you to see if we can help.

Our North Carolina criminal defense law firm is dedicated to compassionate legal representation, developing a defense strategy tailored to the unique aspects of your case, and providing legal advice you can trust.

Don’t Procrastinate. Protect Your Legal Rights

Hire a criminal lawyer immediately, even if you only think criminal charges may be possible.

Helpful Information About Criminal Charges in North Carolina
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