The American legal system is designed to ensure that all people are considered innocent until proven otherwise. Determining a party’s involvement in a crime is often a complex process, however, and specific processes are put in place to maximize the chances that everyone is treated fairly. One of these is the indictment process, which is what individuals face when they are accused of a serious offense.
What Is an Indictment in Texas?
According to Chapter 21 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, an indictment is a formal accusation that a grand jury hands down to an individual accused of committing a felony. Twelve people make up the respective grand jury, and the prosecutor seeking the indictment must convince at least nine of the 12 that there are legitimate reasons to believe that the person in question may be guilty of a serious crime.
The indictment process begins with a District Court judge selecting a panel of jurors who meet certain characteristics and qualifications. The next step is the prosecutor providing the jurors with the basic facts related to that specific case, which may include relevant documents and statements from witnesses. After reviewing the available evidence, the jurors are asked to decide if there’s enough probable cause to issue the indictment. If fewer than nine out of the 12 jurors determine probable cause, the defendant may escape prosecution. In this situation, the prosecutor can repeat the process.
How Does an Indictment Differ From a Charge?
Although the two are related concepts, they have distinct meanings and outcomes. As mentioned earlier, indictments are formal accusations typically used in felony cases. Charges are also formal accusations, but they’re typically used against individuals accused of committing misdemeanors. Another major difference between the two is that charges are typically filed by the prosecutor directly instead of a grand jury. Regardless of whether you’re being indicted or charged, it’s strongly recommended that you seek appropriate representation, such as that provided by the experienced criminal defense lawyers at Case J. Darwin Law Office.
What Are the Typical Steps of an Indictment Process in Texas?
This is the typical process that takes place whenever the prosecution team considers that there are grounds for indictment in a particular case:
A Pre-Hearing Takes Place
The first step in an indictment process usually consists of investigators establishing the basic details of the case. These may include information such as when an incident took place, its exact location, and details regarding how it unfolded. Once these are established, the investigators try to get more relevant details by finding witnesses and then establishing one or more suspects.
The Grand Jury Is Selected
Selecting a grand jury follows a similar procedure to selecting a trial jury. Some criteria that jurors must meet are not being under indictment themselves, being residents of the jurisdiction where the proceedings take place, displaying mental competency, and being able to read and write. Unlike a trial jury, there’s no pretrial phase where appointed counsels can certify or dismiss certain jurors. Another major difference is that, unlike a trial jury that’s appointed for one case, a grand jury can hear multiple cases at a time.
The Hearing Takes Place
After the grand jury is selected, the prosecutors present the case to them. The purpose isn’t to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not but to establish the existence or absence of probable cause. The defendant and their legal team can choose whether or not to attend the indictment hearing, as accepting the formal charges without disputing them isn’t the equivalent of pleading guilty in the respective case.
The Decision Is Presented
After the grand jury hears and analyzes all relevant information in the respective case, each member makes a decision on whether or not they acknowledge the presence of probable cause. If at least nine of the 12 see probable cause, a “true bill” will be put forward, and the case will proceed. If fewer than nine do so, the result is a “no Bill,” and the case won’t move forward at that time.
The Decision Is Upheld
If the jury rules in favor of indicting, the respective indictment will be issued, followed by a formal document called arraignment that describes the charges against the defendant or group of defendants. If the jury doesn’t find probable cause, the prosecution can go back to investigating the respective case and try to build a stronger case for indictment, which they can present to a new grand jury. The defendant’s legal team can also ask for a dismissal on various grounds, such as vague accusations or the defendant’s rights not being respected. Unlike the no bill, a dismissal is permanent.
What Is a Sealed Indictment?
A sealed indictment is an indictment not revealed to the public for a specific time period. This includes to the defendant, who may not be aware that they’re being investigated for a potential felony. The general purpose of sealed indictments is to ensure that the respective investigations can proceed without any interference. Some common reasons for sealed indictments are:
- To prevent the accused party from avoiding arrest by disappearing.
- To prevent the accused party from hiding or destroying relevant evidence that may incriminate them.
- To limit the chances that the accused’s potential co-conspirators find out they may also be indicted.
- To limit the chances that the accused’s potential co-conspirators disappear before law enforcement officers can formally charge and arrest them.
- To protect the anonymity of witnesses and informants connected to the case and keep them safe from any potential intimidation or harm.
Case J. Darwin Law Office Can Help You After an Indictment
It’s always important to remember that being indicted doesn’t mean that you’ve been found guilty of any crime. It’s just a procedure that allows the prosecution to move forward with the investigation, and there are multiple ways in which an experienced legal professional can help you clear your name. If you find yourself in this situation, consider contacting us at Case J. Darwin Law Office, and we’ll work with you to explore your options.