What is an Indictment?

Felicia Dye

An indictment is a formal, printed accusation. It is used by a number of common-law legal systems around the world such as Australia, the United Kingdom, and Botswana. In the United States (U.S.), this charging document is used in both the federal and state legal systems. It commonly is used in situations where a person is believed to have committed a felony. Also, it may be used for misdemeanors but it is not very common.

In the United States, most indictments that formally accuse a person of breaking the law are handed down by a grand jury.
In the United States, most indictments that formally accuse a person of breaking the law are handed down by a grand jury.

In U.S. courts, a prosecutor generally is the person responsible for the creation of this charging document. When the prosecutor has strong beliefs that a particular person committed a particular crime, he may present his case to a grand jury. This is the body that decides whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial. If an indictment is denied on the grounds of insufficient evidence, a prosecutor may be allowed to present the case again in the future, but attempts to do so are not common.

In U.S. courts, a prosecutor is generally the person responsible for the creation of an indictment.
In U.S. courts, a prosecutor is generally the person responsible for the creation of an indictment.

Grand juries are almost exclusively used in the U.S. The United Kingdom utilized grand juries at one point but eliminated them decades ago. A magistrate now is allowed to present an indictment directly to the court.

In the U.S., the indictment often is presented to the accused at his arraignment. This is a court hearing where a person is made aware of the charges against him. The indictment that he receives can include numerous charges.

Each crime that a person is charged with is considered a count. If, for example, a person is accused of murdering two others, he may be charged with two counts of murder. An indictment usually separately and clearly outlines each count.

It normally also includes the time and place where the crimes allegedly occurred. Details of how the accused is believed to have committed the crimes may be included. It also is necessary for the indictment to outline which court has jurisdiction to hear the case, and to acknowledge that this court has the authority to act in the event that a person is found guilty. The wording of certain parts of an indictment is very sensitive in some jurisdictions.

The indictment usually entitles a person to have a jury trial. This is an opportunity for the accused to have the evidence for and against him accessed by a group of impartial peers. A person is not, however, required to accept a jury trial.

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It is sometimes unbelievable the risks that some big business owners or corporate leaders will take to gain profits.

Back in 2001, a big American construction company was handed down a grand jury indictment for paying off other companies to give high bids so his company would win the bid, which meant big bucks for them.

It was a conspiracy that lasted many years. The project was supposed to be done by competitive bidding. Laws were no doubt broken, so an indictment was the right thing to do.

Some of the companies involved in the conspiracy pleaded guilty and paid a steep fine. These companies had been able to keep all this fraud a secret until one of the employees noticed something suspicious and notified the Justice Department. Then the big indictment began.


@Suntan12 -I heard about that case, but you know that a grand jury indictment is not so hard to come by. Usually the evidence is supplied to the grand jury in secret and the indictment is either granted or not. The defendant is not present while the evidence is supplied to the grand jury so that they do not have a chance to explain the situation.

This is why it is easy to get a grand jury indictment. A grand jury indictment does not mean that the defendant is guilty or would face a higher likelihood of a guilty verdict. It just means that the evidence was presented in such a way that the grand jury felt that there was enough evidence for the prosecutors to proceed with the case.

There have been plenty of cases that initially had grand jury indictments that were won by the defendant.


I was reading about the federal indictment brought against former vice presidential candidate John Edwards. He faces a six count indictment relating to misuse of campaign funds to cover up an illicit affair that he was having.

I was reading that he had two large donors that offered a million dollars each in order to supply Edwards’ mistress with her lavish lifestyle so that she would not talk about the affair.

They tried to reach a plea agreement, but the federal government wanted Edwards to plead guilty to a felony which would force him to lose his law license.

They say that he could get up to eight years in prison because the federal prosecutors have been working on this case for the last three years. They say that it is the first case of its kind in which campaign funds were used to cover up an affair. I guess we will see what happens, but I do think that there is some karma in play.

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