What Happens After a Grand Jury Indictment?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

After a grand jury indictment, the individual who is charged in the case usually has a chance to enter a plea. If he chooses to plead not guilty, a trial is set, during which prosecuting attorneys work to prove his guilt while defense attorneys work to prove his innocence. In the event that the party pleads guilty to the charges levied against him, he may receive a sentencing hearing instead. In the time leading up to the trial, the person may have to stay in jail or he may be released on bail. This depends on the jurisdiction in which the person is indicted, the unique details of the case, and whether or not he is likely to flee before the trial.

An indictment is followed by the accused party being charged with a crime.
An indictment is followed by the accused party being charged with a crime.

Following an indictment, the accused party is formally charged with the crime. If he has yet to be arrested, he may be arrested and then charged. In most jurisdictions, the accused party attends a pretrial hearing and has the opportunity to enter a plea. In the event that he pleads guilty, he may be sentenced then or at a later date, but there is typically no need for a trial. If he pleads not guilty, however, he is usually given a trial.

Jail time may be required for someone indicted by a grand jury and awaiting a trial.
Jail time may be required for someone indicted by a grand jury and awaiting a trial.

Some people confuse a grand jury indictment with a conviction and think an indictment means the accused party will be sentenced for the crime of which he was accused. This is not usually the case, however. Instead, an indictment only means that the grand jury believes there is enough evidence to charge the accused party with the crime. The accused individual is usually given a trial before another type of jury, which is referred to as a petit or trial jury, in order to determine whether he is guilty or innocent of the crime.

A jury is a group of citizens who are tasked with determining whether an accused party is guilty or not guilty.
A jury is a group of citizens who are tasked with determining whether an accused party is guilty or not guilty.

Though a person is given a trial after an indictment, the trial is not usually held immediately. This means the accused party has to wait and a judge may decide that he should do so in jail. In some cases, however, a judge decides that a party should be released on bail until his trial date. The laws of the jurisdiction play a role in this decision, but a judge may also consider the nature of the crime, whether or not the accused party is dangerous, and the likelihood that he will flee prosecution.

Evidence suggests that grand jury proceedings tend to almost always follow the recommendations of the prosecutors.
Evidence suggests that grand jury proceedings tend to almost always follow the recommendations of the prosecutors.
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


When indictments are listed, whether it be in the newspaper or at the courthouse, are your entire charges printed in them? I expected to have a few charges if I got indicted and when I did get indicted, there was only one charge listed with it. Could there be more to it when I appear in court?

I ended up with the lesser of the three crimes.


A grand Jury is 23 random people selected to hear the District Attorney (the Prosecutor) side of the story usually reading an FBI report accusing some individual to be involved in some crime such as a drug related matter, a bank fraud or in extreme cases a murder etc.

As a retired criminal attorney, I can tell you this freighting statistic: Almost 99 percent of the time the 23 people vote yes, approving the federal criminal Indictment.

The question is why such a high rate of indictment approval? This is simply because the Prosecutor (DA) usually does a great job at explaining that by accusing (indicting) an individual out there, they will be helping society and supporting police and FBI efforts etc after all even if that individual is not guilty, it shall be proven in court with a formal trial jury.

They also explain that by serving a federal indictment on someone who is not guilty, but somehow was involved in the criminal violation, they would be able to not only send a good message to the community but also intimidate anyone who would think of committing such a crime.

It is often said: a federal prosecuting DA can convince a grand jury (comprised of 23 citizens) to indict a "ham sandwich". The sad reality is: such an indictment, details many innocent people's lives, as quite often they cannot deal with the pressure of the slow legal system and how society turns against them. They end up pointing fingers against others and working out plea bargains instead of standing their grounds and defending themselves. Quite a few get reduced sentences but are scarred for life. Only those who are not only innocent but also resilient end up fighting and going to trial and winning (getting fully acquitted).

Getting a dismissal from the federal criminal case is a hard as building a pyramid single handedly. But even with that dismissal outcome (meaning all charges get dropped, the accused party, the person that was federally indicted will have to answer for the matter every time someone googles him/her.


I have been on a grand jury. You get picked for it like normal jury duty. The prosecution comes in with cases. You hear stories and you decide whether or not that person gets an indictment, in one to two weeks. Generally no longer.


After indictment, it can take years for the trial to take place. But an indictment does not mean "guilty"! The grand jury basically goes on the police report, which can be proven wrong, a lie, etc. during trial. But by all means, if you face serious allegations, do your best not to be represented by a public defender. And don't say a word to the police. In my opinion, you should ask for an attorney.


No, a grand jury, as explained in other posts, only decides if there is enough evidence to let the state proceed with formal charges. It's all due process. Some get indicted on pure circumstantial evidence, and if the DA wants to waste tax dollars on a trial, so be it, but a lot of times it's a bluff on the DA's part, like a game of poker. It's meant to scare you, hoping the suspect will just roll over when they never had a real case anyway! Know your rights!


A grand jury convenes behind closed doors to decide if the state / District attorney has enough evidence to go ahead and charge said defendant with the alleged offense the police report says they were arrested for. Picking a grand jury is basically the same process as picking people for 'regular' jury duty. And no, just because one may be indicted does not mean that person guilty! It only means the jury believes there is enough evidence to "formally' charge a suspect. Then comes the plea bargains or court trials.


Which of the following steps of a criminal case are listed in the correct order?

a. Arraignment, arrest, trial, indictment.

b. Arrest, indictment, arraignment, trial.

c. Indictment, arraignment, arrest, trial.

d. Arrest, arraignment, indictment, trial.


How is it possible that a grand jury can wait six months to a year to put out an indictment on someone?


How long after being indicted does it typically take to get to court?


The grand jury is a group of people selected just like a normal jury for a trial, except they serve for about twelve months and are behind the scenes. They decide if there is enough information to believe that a crime has been committed, and if there is enough evidence to believe a crime has been committed, then the defendant goes in front of the judge to enter his plea. If he pleads not guilty, then a trial date is set. If there is not enough evidence to believe a crime has been committed, no charges are brought against the defendant.


@Emilski - I would say you are probably right. That could be for a couple of reasons. On one hand, yes, maybe they just tend to say that there is probable cause for most people to go to trial. On the other hand, I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the time the people that have been arrested have been arrested because the police found evidence, which is what the grand jury goes on.

I don't know how a federal indictment works, but at the state level, some State's Attorneys are able to get warrants without the approval of a grand jury. Any time I have ever heard of this happening, though, it has been for a murder charge.


@TreeMan - Good explanation. I was always a little unclear about grand juries myself.

What I am curious about is how often a grand jury actually decides that there isn't enough evidence to hold someone accountable for a crime. It seems like in all the example I hear that they usually error on the side of guilt and let the court and a jury decide whether they are truly guilty.

I can't recall ever hearing a story about people being upset because the grand jury indictment process decided that there wasn't enough evidence. I'm sure it has happened, but not in many big crimes.


@Izzy78 - Don't feel bad. I had a hard time figuring out what a grand jury was at first, too. Luckily, my grandfather was on one and explained it to me. For some reason they are always mentioned in the news and during trials, but it's always very vague as to who they are.

You are correct that the individuals decide if someone should be charged with a crime. A grand jury is selected from the voter registration pool just like a petit jury. Unlike a regular jury, though, grand jury members serve for a certain period of time. I believe it is usually a year. Depending on the number of crimes in the district, they meet a certain number of times per week to look over cases.

Because it is a regular commitment, it usually just ends up being retirees or self-employed people that accept the duty. As they are deciding the cases, they usually have someone with a legal background to help them interpret the laws.


In my civics class we have been doing a unit on the court process, but I still don't know if I understand how a grand jury works. My teacher can't seem to give me a good answer, either. I'm not completely sure he knows what it means.

First off, what exactly is a grand jury? The article says that they aren't the actual jury who sentences people. So, if I understand it correctly, the grand jury just decides if someone actually committed a crime. Is that correct? If so, where do they come from? I have never actually seen a grand jury before. Is it just a group of judges or the attorneys or who? It's very confusing to me.

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