What Does Indicted Mean?
On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in Criminal Defense on Sunday, April 26, 2020
Whether you’re watching the news or concerned about a criminal investigation involving you or a loved one, you should know what the term “indicted” means. Being indicted means to be formally charged with a serious crime, which results after a Grand Jury convenes to hear the evidence in the case against you. In many circumstances, indictments are required for federal and state felony charges to move forward.
What is an Indictment?
Under North Carolina General Statute §15A-641, an “indictment is a written accusation by a grand jury, filed with a superior court, charging a person with the commission of one or more criminal offenses.” The superior court is where all felony charges are tried.
The indictment from the grand jury must include certain information, as instructed by North Carolina General Statute §15A-644:
- The name of the superior court in which the indictment is filed;
- The title of the action;
- Criminal charges pleaded;
- The signature of the prosecutor (but its omission is not a fatal defect); and
- The signature of the foreman or acting foreman of the grand jury attesting the agreement of 12 or more grand jurors.
North Carolina distinguishes an indictment from an information or a presentment. An information is a written accusation by a prosecutor, not a grand jury.
A presentment is a written accusation by a grand jury, but for a new accusation not brought to the grand jury by the prosecutor. A presentment does not start legal proceedings like an indictment. Instead, it requires the prosecutor to investigate the facts alleged in the presentment, and when appropriate, submit bills of indictment to a grand jury.
How is Someone Indicted in North Carolina?
In North Carolina, defendants are indicted by a grand jury. North Carolina General Statute §15A-621 defines a grand jury as a group consisting of between 12 and 18 people who are impaneled by a superior court and constitute a body of that court.
A grand jury is different from a petit jury, which is used for trials. A grand jury does not decide if a defendant is guilty of a crime. Instead, the grand jury is concerned with whether there is probable cause to charge a person with a crime. Probable cause a relatively low standard. It only requires that the facts support a formal accusation. An indictment is not an indication of guilt and should never be confused with a guilty verdict.
Once the jurors for the grand jury are selected, the judge must appoint one of the jurors as foreman and someone else to act as foreman if the first is absent. The judge gives the jurors oral instructions regarding their duties, which is to listen to and consider the evidence presented and determine if there is probable cause the defendant committed one or more of the crimes the prosecutor alleges.
Grand jury proceedings are secret. All members of the grand jury and anyone else present in the courtroom during the proceedings must not disclose any information regarding who is present or what is said.
During the grand jury proceedings, the prosecutor will present their evidence, including oral testimony and demonstrative evidence, such as photos, video, audio recordings, and documents.
The defendant and their counsel do not participate in the grand jury proceedings. The defendant does not get to see or hear what is going on, and they are not allowed to mount any defense.
When the prosecutor is finished presenting their evidence, the grand jury will deliberate. If at least 12 members of the jury agree there is probable cause, the return the bill marked as a True Bill. If at least 12 jurors do not agree, then they return the bill marked as Not a True Bill. If the prosecutor brought more than one accusation, the grand jury would decide to indict on each accusation. Some may be returned as a True Bill and others may not.
If the defendant is not indicted at this time, the criminal process is not necessarily over. A prosecutor can return to a grand jury with an accusation of a lesser or similar offense.
Is an Indictment Necessary?
Indictments are not always necessary. In some circumstances, an indictment can be waived. A defendant may waive an indictment when there is a plea agreement involvement, in which case, a prosecutor files a bill of information. However, under North Carolina General Statute §15A-642, an indictment can’t be waived in a capital case or when a defendant does not have a lawyer.
Another way someone can be charged with a felony without a grand jury indictment is through a probable cause hearing. When a case is in the District Court, a prosecutor can request a probable cause hearing. If upon hearing the evidence, the judge determines there is probable cause the defendant committed the offense, then the judge can bind the person over to a trial in the Superior Court.
Have You Been Indicted for a Felony in North Carolina?
You may not be arrested before an indictment. Sometimes, a person is arrested for an offense, and then a prosecutor pursues felony charges through an indictment, plea agreement, or probable cause hearing. Other times, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies conduct thorough investigations and seek a grand jury indictment before making an arrest.
You should contact an experienced Charlotte defense attorney as soon you’re aware of an investigation or have been arrested. There are ways to fight an indictment, and if you are indicted, you can aggressively defend yourself against the felony charges.