25 Jun 20

Indicted vs Charged What Do They Mean?

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Last Updated on: 29th September 2023, 11:17 pm

Indicted vs Charged: Understanding the Differences

Indicted vs Charged: What Do They Mean?

If you or someone you love has been arrested for a crime, you have likely heard the phrases “indicted” and charged. These legal terms are similar, but there are important differences between the two. Understanding the differences can help you better prepare for your defense and understand the potential consequences you could be facing.


A charge is a formal allegation form law enforcement that you committed a crime. Charges occur in a variety of ways depending on the severity of the crime. For misdemeanors, it is not unusual for prosecutor to file a charge against a person directly. In some jurisdictions, this is how felony cases are initiated as well. In other places, the prosecutor will rely on a grand jury to bring a felony charge.

If you are not already in custody when the formal charge comes down, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest. If you were arrested prior to formal charges being filed, the police will typically provide you with documentation of the charges while you are in jail.

If you find yourself arrested on a warrant after being formally charged, the officer must give you a copy of the document. The warrant will outline the charges you face, and it will be signed by the judge that authorized it. The charges set out in your warrant can change in the future, however, as the prosecutor could upgrade your charges or dismiss them entirely.

After you are charged with a crime, your case will be set for a formal arraignment. This is your first opportunity to see a judge following your arrest. In some cases, your lawyer might be able to negotiate your release from jail and help you avoid a court appearance at the initial hearing.

When it comes to bringing charges, there are technical requirements that the state must follow. The failure to comply with these requirements could see your case dismissed permanently. If the state waits to long to bring charges or fails to property notify you, it could lead to a viable defense.


Indictments are similar to a criminal charge. In fact, an indictment is the process many jurisdictions use to bring a felony charge against an individual. Indictments occur when a prosecutor uses a grand jury to initiate a felony case against a suspect. At the grand jury, the prosecutor will provide the evidence they have against the defendant and ask for an indictment on the charges they present. It is the role of the grand jury to determine if there is enough evidence to go forward. If the grand jury agrees that there is enough evidence to warrant a felony charge, the case will move forward. If a grand jury decides there is not enough evidence, that is the end of the case.

The grand jury process is similar to a trial in some ways. It involves witnesses and is held before a judge. However, the bar for establishing grounds for a criminal offense is much lower than the burden at trial. Additionally, you do not have the same rights in a grand jury as you do during a jury trial. You are not entitled to a lawyer, and might not even have knowledge a grand jury is proceeding against you until an indictment is handed down.

Much like with a criminal charge, an indictment will lead to an arrest warrant issued against you. In some cases where your attorney has been in contact with the prosecution, it may be possible to avoid an arrest and turn yourself in. This can avoid the embarrassment of an arrest and allow you to get your affairs in order before being taken into custody.

Whether you are charged or indicted, it is vital that you seek experienced legal counsel right away. A dedicated criminal defense attorney can work to free you from jail after an arrest and potentially fight the charges against you.

The Grand Jury Process: Key Points

The Grand Jury Process: What to Expect

We hear a lot about a Grand Jury being convened to take a look into certain felonies that may have been committed by an individual. Despite the term being used on a regular basis, the actual processes and way a Grand Jury works can be a mystery to most people. Knowing exactly what to expect of the Grand Jury process when you are indicted for some sort of crime.

1. What is an Indictment?

When you receive an indictment you are being told you are believed to have been involved in committing a crime. The Grand Jury indictment comes after an investigation has reached a point where investigators and prosecutors have concluded there is a good chance of proving your guilt.

2. What is a Grand Jury?

There are only two states in the U.S. that do not use the Grand Jury system to decide who will be charged with a specific crime. When a Grand Jury is convened, the idea is for a group of independent people to be presented with all the evidence from investigators and prosecutors. The Grand Jury listens to the arguments and evidence before casting a secret vote to decide if the case has been proven for charges to be filed against an individual.

3. Does this mean the Defendant is Guilty?

The issue most prosecutors have with the use of a Grand Jury is the fact only evidence from the state or Federal authorities are submitted for evidence. This means almost every meeting of the Grand Jury results in an indictment because there is not usually a time for the defendant to argue their case.

4. Is a Grand Jury always used?

The use of Grand Juries is not always needed and some states do not require one to meet for every felony outside the Federal mandate. There are several Federal charges that must involve the use of a Grand Jury, including those written into the Constitution.

5. Does a Defendant have the Chance to Respond?

Using a Grand Jury is not an admission or even proof of guilt on the part of the defendant. Instead, all a Grand Jury indictment means is that an investigation has proven there is enough evidence to move forward with the case against an individual. The response from the defendant comes at the venue of their trial set after they have been indicted.

6. Should a Defendant Hire an Attorney

Once the Grand Jury indictment has been received an individual should spend their time deciding whether to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. Hiring an attorney is probably the best option for most people because if the defendant cannot afford a legal expert they will be provided with one by the state. Federal charges result in a conviction rate above 90 percent meaning an attorney is a vital part of any defense.

7. Choosing a Defense Attorney

The choice of an experienced defense attorney is vital to allowing the truth of any potential crime to be explored. An experienced defense attorney will usually be able to look for issues with the case brought against an individual and leading to a thorough review of every aspect of the case presented by Federal prosecutors.

8. Where will a Trial Take Place?

The issue of where a trial will take place following the indictment by a grand jury is easy to answer if a case is tried by Federal prosecutors. The venue of the trial will be in one of the 94 Unites States District Courts that are linked to Federal agencies.

9. Choosing a Course of Action

The Grand Jury indictment is usually a sign that Federal authorities believe they have a strong case against an individual. An individual can choose to fight the charges brought against them or work with prosecutors to reach a plea deal that suits both sides of the case.

10. Does the Defendant go to Jail?

There is no specific answer to this question with every case treated differently. A bond hearing will often be the next step in the indictment process where it will be decided whether the individual will be held in Federal custody or released until the time of their trial.

How Does an Indictment Differ From an Arrest or Being Charged?

What is an Indictment?

An indictment is when a grand jury formally accuses someone of a crime. It’s one of the first steps in the criminal process and kicks off the formal prosecution.

Here’s how it works:

  • A grand jury is a group of citizens (usually 16-23 people) selected to review evidence and determine if there’s probable cause that a crime was committed. They meet in private to investigate – no judge is present.
  • The prosecutor presents information and witnesses to the grand jury. The accused and their lawyer don’t get to be present or cross-examine witnesses.
  • If 12 or more grand jurors agree there’s probable cause, they issue an indictment, which is a formal charge accusing the person of a specific crime(s).

An indictment doesn’t mean the accused is guilty – just that there’s enough evidence for a trial. It’s basically the grand jury saying “Yep, this looks fishy, let’s get this to court and figure it out.”

The Fifth Amendment requires federal prosecutors to get an indictment for any felony charge, but state laws vary. Some states require indictments for serious crimes, others allow prosecutors to file charges directly.

What Happens After an Indictment?

Once indicted, the accused is formally charged with the crimes listed in the indictment. If they weren’t already arrested, a warrant will likely be issued for their arrest at this point.

After arrest, they’ll be arraigned and have the charges read to them in court. They’ll enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, no contest) and bail may be set. Then the case moves forward to the trial phase.

So in short:

Indictment → formal charges → arrest → arraignment → trial

The indictment itself doesn’t determine guilt or punishment. But it kicks off the legal process that could end with conviction and sentencing if the accused is found guilty at trial.

What Does it Mean to be Charged with a Crime?

When someone is charged with a crime, it means the prosecutor has formally accused them of committing a specific criminal offense.

Here’s the difference between being indicted vs. charged:

  • Indictment – a grand jury accuses you of a crime
  • Charged – a prosecutor accuses you of a crime

The end result is the same – you’re formally accused of a crime. But the indictment comes from the grand jury, while the charge comes directly from the prosecutor.

Some key points about being charged:

  • Can happen at time of arrest or soon after
  • Police and prosecutors can file charges on their own, no grand jury required
  • Felonies require indictment in federal court but not always in state court
  • Misdemeanors don’t require indictment, prosecutor can file charges directly
  • Being charged kicks off legal proceedings leading to arraignment and trial
  • Doesn’t determine guilt, but starts the process to prove guilt at trial

So in a typical case, you’d be arrested, charged by the prosecutor, and then indicted by a grand jury before heading to trial. The indictment and charges accuse you of the same crime(s), just through different accusers.

How is an Arrest Different Than an Indictment or Charge?

An arrest is simply the act of taking someone into custody for allegedly committing a crime. Police have the power to arrest someone they reasonably suspect of a crime, even without an indictment or formal charges being filed yet.

Some key differences between arrest vs indictment/charges:

  • Arrest is physical act, indictment/charges are legal actions
  • Arrest can happen before indictment or charges
  • Arrest based on probable cause, indictment/charges require more evidence
  • Arrest starts process leading to indictment and charges

So in summary:

  • Arrest = being taken into police custody
  • Indictment = grand jury accuses you of a crime
  • Charges = prosecutor accuses you of a crime

The arrest usually happens first, then indictment and charges follow as the legal process plays out.

What Happens After Arrest?

After being arrested, the typical next steps are:

  • Police take your fingerprints, photos, etc.
  • You’re held in jail pending bail/bond hearing
  • Prosecutor reviews evidence and files formal charges
  • Grand jury reviews evidence and returns an indictment
  • You’re arraigned and enter plea on charges
  • Judge sets bail terms, or you’re released on your own recognizance
  • If you make bail, you’re released until trial date

So the arrest starts the ball rolling, but indictment and charges must follow to proceed with the prosecution. The prosecutor needs an indictment or formal charges to take a case to trial and seek conviction.

Let’s Look at Some Examples

Now that we’ve gone over the general concepts, it helps to look at some real-world examples to see how these processes work:

Example 1:

Bob is arrested by police for possession of illegal drugs. The police take him to jail and file an incident report documenting the arrest.

The prosecutor reviews the police report and decides to formally charge Bob with drug possession. A few weeks later, a grand jury hears testimony and indicts Bob on charges of possession with intent to distribute.

Bob is arraigned on the indictment charges, enters a not guilty plea, and is released on bond while awaiting trial.

In this case, Bob was arrested, charged, and indicted, in that order. Each step moved the legal process forward towards trial.

Example 2:

Jane is arrested for assaulting her neighbor. At the time of arrest, the police file formal charges against Jane for assault and battery.

Jane is arraigned on the charges and enters a not guilty plea. Her lawyer argues to the judge that the charges are improper because prosecutors failed to obtain a grand jury indictment as required by state law for felony assault.

The judge agrees – the charges are dismissed because the prosecutor skipped the indictment step. But the prosecutor takes the case to a grand jury, which returns an indictment on assault charges. Jane is then re-arrested and arraigned on the new indictment.

In this case, the original charges were deemed improper because the prosecutor failed to follow proper procedure and get an indictment first. They had to go back and get the indictment to continue the case.

Example 3:

Mike is arrested during a drug sting operation. As the police take him into custody, he is verbally informed he is being charged with conspiracy to sell illegal drugs.

Over the next few weeks, prosecutors build their case and ultimately get an indictment from a grand jury for multiple drug distribution charges, including conspiracy.

Mike is arraigned on the broader indictment charges rather than the original charges mentioned at his arrest. The case proceeds based on the indictment.

Here we see the original charges at arrest were superseded by the more formal indictment from the grand jury. The indictment carries more legal weight than initial charges.

Key Takeaways

  • Indictment = grand jury accuses you of a crime
  • Charges = prosecutor accuses you of a crime
  • Arrest = police take you into custody
  • Arrest typically comes first, followed by charges and/or indictment
  • Indictment required for federal felonies, but state laws vary
  • Indictment and charges lead to arraignment and trial proceedings
  • Not guilty until proven guilty at trial!

Hopefully this breakdown clarifies the meaning and implications of indictments, charges, and arrests. Being accused of a crime is a frightening thing, but understanding the legal process is key.

If you’re facing criminal prosecution, be sure to retain an experienced defense attorney to protect your rights. A skilled lawyer can review the evidence, fight improper charges, negotiate with the prosecutor, and defend you at trial if it comes down to it.

Don’t go it alone – having a legal expert on your side can make all the difference. Most offer free consultations, so call around and find the right fit for your situation. Together you can develop a strategy to achieve the most favorable outcome.

Best of luck, and stay strong! This too shall pass.