What is a True Bill?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A true bill is an indictment which has been presented to a grand jury and endorsed as valid. When the grand jury determines that an indictment is a true bill, it means that the grand jury believes that the charges have merit and the accused should be brought to court to answer to them. By contrast, a grand jury can return a “no bill” or “bill of ignoramus” when it does not agree with an indictment and believes that a case should not proceed to trial because there is not enough available evidence to support the charges as they stand.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Worldwide, the practice of using a grand jury is in decline. In nations that still use a grand jury, when prosecutors wish to bring charges in criminal courts, they must first bring the charges to the grand jury in the form of an indictment. The grand jury is presented with evidence and the members of the jury must decide whether or not there is a probability that the accused committed the crime in question. If the grand jury agrees with the prosecutor, it endorses the indictment and the case proceeds to trial.

The grand jury does not determine guilt or innocence in a case, and thus a true bill is not a conviction, only an endorsement of the charges that were presented to the grand jury. A written statement indicating that an indictment is a true bill confirms that a crime has taken place and that the person a prosecutor has accused is a likely suspect. If the grand jury cannot agree on this, it will return a written decision of “no bill.”

A true bill endorsement must be signed by the foreperson of the grand jury. The foreperson represents the grand jurors and confirms that they deliberated on the indictment and agreed that the charges were valid.

Grand jury proceedings may be closed if there are concerns about the safety or security of a case. Secret or sealed indictments are sometimes used to indict criminals who are not aware that they are under investigation. In these cases, being notified about a grand jury indictment would tip a criminal off, so the event is kept secret in order to avoid compromising a case or investigation. There may also be concerns about the safety of grand jurors, in which case an indictment may be kept secret so that their identities will not be disclosed.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@indemnifyme - I agree with you. I think there is definitely a place in our legal system for a grand jury.

I'm not quite sure I agree with charges going in front of a grand jury before the person who is accused hears about them. I mean, I understand that they don't want to tip criminals off. But it just seems unfair to totally blindside someone with charges without giving them any time to get a lawyer or anything!


I think a grand jury should definitely be used if someone is going to be tried for a serious crime, such as murder. I think it's worthwhile to have one more group of people examine the evidence before a person has to stand trial.

Even if you are found innocent, even being accused of a serious crime could ruin your reputation. So I'm glad this kind of protection exists!

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