What Is an Indictment?
Going through the proceedings in a criminal court case can be scary and intimidating. Aside from the obvious possibility of legal consequences at the end, the steps involved between an initial arrest and a final verdict are confusing for most people. It’s difficult to know where you stand and what might be coming next.
A lot of the stress generated by these circumstances has to do with all the “legalese” that gets thrown around. There are plenty of legal terms most people hear quite often, but don’t really understand what they mean. There are words like hearing, arraignment, deposition, affidavit, and plenty more.
One of those words is “indictment”. How many times have you heard some version of that word on the local news?
“Mr. X was indicted on charges of…”
“An indictment was handed down today…”
Let’s take a look at what exactly an indictment is and how it fits into the Oklahoma criminal prosecution process.
The Definition of Indictment
The most basic definition of an indictment is a written accusation which charges that an individual has either committed an act or committed to do something that is punishable by law. An indictment must be issued by a grand jury.
A grand jury is sworn and convened by either the state or federal government. The jury’s job is not to decide if a person is innocent or guilty of a crime but to evaluate evidence and decide if there is sufficient probability that the accused person has committed a crime. The process is commonly referred to as a grand jury investigation.
If the grand jury decides that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial, they will have indicted the person or group under investigation. The indictment allows for the prosecution process against the accused to continue.
Grand Jury and Indictment in Oklahoma
In federal proceedings, prosecution typically proceeds with a grand jury indictment. Under Oklahoma state law, however, a grand jury is not absolutely required. In fact, the majority of criminal cases in Oklahoma don’t employ a grand jury.
The criminal justice system in Oklahoma works mainly from charges filed by district attorneys. In these cases, defendants are served with what is known as an Information. The Information lays out a description of the charges the district attorney has filed. However, being charged by an information only in State Court gives you the right to a preliminary hearing.In the preliminary hearing, it must be decided whether or not there is reasonably sufficient evidence to continue with prosecution.
Charges can be filed against in you federal court with out a grand jury indictment as well, although not as common as in State court. In Federal Court the Government’s prosecutor is the U.S. Attorney’s Office, they can file a Complaint against you charging you with some violation of Federal law. But if a charge comes by Complaint only you have the right to a preliminary hearing before a Federal Judge to determine if the evidence is sufficient.
There does exist, however, a statute that makes it possible to convene a multi-county grand jury which can be used to conduct investigations and issue indictments within the state. These investigations are generally conducted by Oklahoma’s Attorney General and have become more common in recent years.
When an Indictment Is Returned
A grand jury must return one of two verdicts, just as a trial jury must choose between guilty or not guilty. If a grand jury decides there is enough evidence for prosecution to continue, they will return a decision of “true bill”, which is an indictment. If they decide that there is not enough evidence, they will return “no bill”.
Once an indictment is issued, it can only be dismissed by a judge. If there is a need to change anything, an existing indictment can only be modified by a new indictment, which must also come from a grand jury.
Even though the grand jury and preliminary hearing process serve the same basic purpose, defendants in the state of Oklahoma are still entitled to a preliminary hearing after they have been indicted if they request it. Under federal law, there is no preliminary hearing after an indictment has been issued.
Have you had an indictment issued against you? Do you have questions about Oklahoma criminal law or how to defend yourself against incorrect accusations? Don’t panic! I can help. I am an experienced attorney ready to help you navigate the Oklahoma legal system. Contact me today for a free consultation and I’ll be happy to answer all of your questions and explain how I can help you mount the best defense possible.