NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS

30 Dec 23

Grand Jury Indictment – What Are My Options?

| by

Last Updated on: 30th December 2023, 06:19 am

So You Got Indicted: What Happens Now and What Can You Do?

Getting indicted by a federal grand jury can be scary and confusing. Believe me, I get it. One minute you’re living your normal life, and the next you’ve got the full force of the federal justice system coming down on you. It’s a lot to take in.But don’t panic. An indictment sounds bad, but it’s not the end of the road. There are still options and things you can do to protect yourself. I’m here to walk you through exactly what an indictment means and what your best next steps are.

What is a Federal Grand Jury Indictment?

Let’s start with the basics. An indictment is a formal criminal charge brought against you by a federal grand jury. This doesn’t mean you’ve been found guilty – it’s just an accusation at this point.The grand jury is a panel of citizens who listen to evidence presented only by federal prosecutors and decide if there’s probable cause to charge you with a federal crime. They operate in secret, without you or your lawyer present. All it takes is 12 out of 23 grand jurors to vote in favor of an indictment.Once they’ve indicted you, the indictment gets filed with the court under seal – meaning it’s kept secret for now. The specific charges against you will remain sealed until your first court appearance.

Why is it Such a Big Deal?

I know it sounds pretty unfair that federal prosecutors get to present evidence against you to a grand jury with no chance for your lawyer to participate or defend you. The whole thing happens in secret without you even knowing about it.And on top of that, the standard of proof is so low – just probable cause, not the beyond a reasonable doubt standard used in criminal trials. It might feel like the deck is stacked against you, and in some ways, it is.So why does the indictment carry so much weight? Why does it strike fear into the hearts of so many defendants?Simply put, getting indicted means the full force of federal law enforcement is now trained on you. The prosecution feels it has a strong enough case to pursue felony charges before a grand jury.It’s incredibly difficult to get an indictment dismissed or thrown out once it’s handed down. So generally, an indictment means you’re headed to trial or a guilty plea unless your lawyer can convince prosecutors to drop or reduce charges.We’ll talk more about your options in just a minute. But first, it helps to understand what got you indicted in the first place.

Why Did I Get Indicted?

Federal indictments can happen for all sorts of white collar and organized crimes – wire fraud, tax evasion, identity theft, drug trafficking conspiracy charges, and more.But for any federal case to move forward, prosecutors need to show probable cause that a federal crime was committed. Usually an indictment comes after a lengthy grand jury investigation where the prosecution has subpoenaed documents, interviewed witnesses, dug into financial records, or made undercover buys.This investigative process gives prosecutors time to build their case before seeking an indictment. So when they finally present evidence to get an indictment, they usually feel pretty confident the grand jury will hand one down.

What Happens Now – Arraignment and Beyond

Once you’ve been indicted, the federal court will schedule your arraignment. This is your first appearance before a judge where the formal charges against you will be unsealed and read.The judge will also consider whether to release you while your case moves forward. If granted pretrial release, the court may require conditions like electronic monitoring, drug testing, or geographic travel restrictions.After your arraignment, your lawyer will start reviewing discovery and having preliminary negotiations with prosecutors. In the meantime, you’ll be required to attend court hearings leading up to your trial.And about that trial – federal courts move notoriously fast after an indictment comes down. Your lawyer may only have a few months to file motions, build a defense strategy, and negotiate with prosecutors before trial.

What are My Options After a Federal Indictment?

I know this whole process sounds scary and frustrating. But don’t lose hope! Even after an indictment, you still have cards left to play in your defense. As your lawyer builds a case strategy, they will likely pursue a combination of these options:

Seek Dismissal of the Indictment

Getting an indictment thrown out is tough, but it can happen. Common strategies to dismiss an indictment include:

  • Speedy trial violations – If prosecutors violate your constitutional right to a speedy trial, the case could get tossed.
  • Challenging grand jury procedures – If prosecutors cut corners getting the indictment, your lawyer can challenge those procedural defects.
  • Arguing improper venue – Federal crimes must be prosecuted in the district where they allegedly occurred. If venue is improper, the judge may dismiss the case.
  • Claiming vindictive prosecution – If prosecutors are clearly coming after you for malicious or retaliatory reasons, it may be possible to prove vindictive prosecution and get charges dropped.

Dismissals are rare, but they do happen – especially when your lawyer identifies glaring problems with how prosecutors obtained the indictment.

Plea Bargain for Reduced Charges

If dismissal seems unlikely, your best option is often to negotiate a plea deal. The overwhelming majority of federal cases end with a guilty plea rather than trial.Plea negotiations are extremely complex and case-specific. But generally, your lawyer will highlight weaknesses in the prosecution’s case while gathering evidence and witness testimony to counter their key arguments.The ultimate goal is securing a plea bargain to reduced charges in exchange for avoiding an expensive, risky trial. Common outcomes include pleading guilty to a less serious felony or even a misdemeanor.

Take the Case to Trial

While federal indictments usually end in plea deals, you always have the right to take your case before a jury at trial. Your lawyer may recommend a trial strategy if they believe prosecutors have overreached with charges and don’t have evidence to support their case.Trials come with major risks, like lengthy mandatory minimum sentences if found guilty. But skilled federal defense attorneys win acquittals at trial every day. In cases with little hard evidence, it can be wise to roll the dice with a jury rather than accept unfair plea deals.

Finding the Right Lawyer is Critical

As you can see, the options after a federal indictment all require expert guidance from an experienced attorney. Their negotiation skills could be the difference between a crippling conviction and charges getting dropped or reduced.Unfortunately, not all defense lawyers are equal when it comes to federal cases. Here are some tips on finding the right one:

  • Seek out true federal specialists – Federal law is incredibly complex. Only hire lawyers who focus exclusively on federal cases.
  • Avoid big firm junior associates – The highest value lawyers will be partners who personally handle cases – not hand you off to inexperienced juniors.
  • Find someone respected by prosecutors – The best federal defense lawyers have working relationships with prosecutors and credibility to negotiate excellent deals.
  • Meet them before hiring – Make sure you choose a lawyer who hears you out, answers all questions, and makes you feel comfortable and confident.

I hope this breakdown has helped you better understand the federal indictment process and given you hope for getting the best possible outcome. The key is staying positive and finding an exceptional lawyer you trust.You can get through this – it’s just going to take smart strategy and perseverance. Godspeed! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Resources

Videos explaining federal indictments

Articles with more information