What Does "No Bill" Mean?

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  • Written By: Christopher John
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2020
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"No bill" is a legal term that indicates that a grand jury has decided that there is not enough evidence to place a criminal suspect on trial in court. Some jurisdictions use a grand jury to determine whether a suspect should face a criminal trial. A grand jury is a group of people selected randomly from the community. If a grand jury decides there is sufficient evidence, it issues a "true bill" that a suspect must face a criminal trial.

Historically, laypersons were allowed to prosecute anyone in the community. The function of the grand jury was to safeguard against malicious prosecutions. In theory, a grand jury is still supposed to protect against improper prosecutions. Critics, however, claim that grand juries serve only as a rubber stamp for prosecutors because grand jury members do not fully understand their role and are overly dependent on the evidence presented to them by the prosecutor.


With a grand jury system, a prosecutor issues a document called an indictment which identifies a suspect and the crimes the suspect is accused of committing. The prosecutor gives the indictment to the grand jury. He then presents witnesses and other evidence. If the grand jury determines that the evidence justifies putting a criminal suspect on trial, it writes the phrase “true bill” on the indictment. This is, in effect, an endorsement of the prosecutor's charges against the suspect. A grand jury writes “no bill” on the indictment when it decides that there is not enough evidence to bring a case against the suspect.

Previously, a grand jury would write the Latin phrase ignoramus on the indictment, which means "we are ignorant." When a grand jury used the term ignoramus, it meant that the evidence presented did not appear true. Now, grand juries commonly use the terms “no bill,” “not found,” or “not a true bill.” Ultimately, the phrases have the same meaning.

Even if a grand jury issues a no bill on an indictment, the prosecutor can resubmit an indictment to the same grand jury or to a new one. In other words, a prosecutor may continue to submit an indictment to a grand jury until he achieves the outcome he desires. Some jurisdictions limit prosecutors by not allowing them to resubmit an indictment more than two times. Other jurisdictions require the prosecutor to get approval from the court before resubmitting an indictment to a grand jury. This is why some critics argue that prosecutors can abuse the grand jury system.


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Post 3

I was raped, and became pregnant. The grand jury found a' "no bill" because there wasn't enough evidence. Really? The state of NJ is a joke.

Post 2

@lovealot - I kind of think that the grand jury system and that the no bill by grand jury is outdated. It was started at a time when anyone in the community could act as a prosecutor and bring criminal charges against someone. The grand jury and no bill was a way to have ordinary citizens decide if the "prosecutor" had enough evidence to bring criminal charges.

I guess today it is used in cases where there's a real question about whether there's enough evidence for criminal charges.

Post 1

In today's world, I don't quite get why they still have grand juries convening to see if a prosecutor has enough evidence to bring a criminal to trial.

I know it's a way to check to make sure a prosecutor isn't just trying to bring charges against criminals without good cause. But if a grand jury gives a "no bill" directive, the prosecutor can ask for a grand jury proceeding again. It just doesn't make sense to me.

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