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Breakdown of the Federal Indictment Process

June 24, 2020

A federal indictment is an official legal document that formally charges an individual with a crime. If a case gets presented to the grand jury and they determine that the evidence is sufficient for a trial, formal charges would be brought forward against the accused.

A federal indictment is basically how a prosecution lays its case. However, sometimes a case may begin through criminal information or complaint.

What Are The Basics Of A Federal Indictment Charge?

The layout of a federal indictment varies with one’s jurisdictions. That said, some factors remain constant on every federal indictment. These factors include;

• The district court

• Captions of the cases. These captions detail the parties involved in the trial and the charges leveled on the accused.

• The case number which shows the date and place of filing

• Narrative. The narrative provides a detailed account of the crimes that the accused is being charged with. In this section, the defendant’s background information can also be found.

How Is a Federal Indictment Obtained?

These legal documents can only be brought back by a grand jury in the trial’s particular state. A typical grand jury consists of about 16 to 23 individuals from the community. The grand jury is tasked with reviewing the evidence brought forward and listening to the testimonies of various witnesses.

After the jury processes the information tabled by the prosecutor and the lawyers, they discuss amongst themselves and decide whether there is probable cause for indictment. For a charge to hold any water, there must be about 16 members of the jury present.

In these 16 members, at least 12 have to vote for the defendant’s prosecution. Lately, there have been various concerns about the reliability of a grand jury. This is because most of the proceedings are usually held in secret, and the probable cause in most cases is typically low.

This way, a prosecutor is more likely to get the accused indicted even when the evidence is sufficient. An indictment passed by the grand jury is the final word. No other changes can be made to the document after the grand jury passes it.

However, in criminal trials, charges can get added or removed in a process referred to as superseding indictment. The superseding indictment must come from a grand jury and can replace the original verdict.

Is it Possible to Contest a Federal Indictment?

In theory, it is possible to contest a federal indictment. The easiest way to do that is to prove at trial beyond any reasonable doubt that the allegations leveled against you are false. You can also challenge the indictment before the trial, but this is somewhat hard to accomplish.

For your appeal to have any substance, you would need to stick to the hard facts on the scenarios on the case. Below are some of the ways you can challenge an indictment;

• You would need to prove that you weren’t provided with sufficient knowledge about the charges against you.

• You would need to show that the prosecutor didn’t provide the jury with full knowledge about the laws of that case. This can be considered as misconduct on the prosecutor’s end.

• You would have to prove that the case was brought forth in the wrong venue or district.

• Lastly, you can prove that the indictment didn’t hold the legal aspects of a crime.

Before contesting your federal indictment, it is advisable to keep in mind that very rarely do defense attorneys successfully challenge an indictment. However, the right attorney can provide other legal reasons to assert the appeal.

A case in point is if your attorney asks the prosecution to produce more evidence to support their charge against you. If the prosecution wasn’t well prepared, the case might get dismissed.

Final Thoughts

Federal indictments are no joke. If you receive a federal charge, it is more likely that the prosecution feels that they have enough evidence to convict you of a felony. Most times, indictments are accusations and don’t necessarily mean one is guilty.

Regardless, an official indictment can cause serious consequences such as loss of employment, frozen assets, and harm to one’s reputation. The right attorney will try to help you in their best capacity. However, as mentioned above, challenging an indictment is difficult. It is, therefore, not unusual for a lawyer to take the defensive approach at a trial.

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