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What Is an Indictment?

Posted on April 26, 2021 in

An indictment is one way to file criminal charges against a suspect. It is a process that involves a grand jury reviewing the facts of a case and deciding whether or not there is enough evidence to formally accuse the suspect of a crime. In Arizona, not all criminal cases require indictments to bring charges against a suspect. They are typically only necessary for serious crimes, such as felonies.

What Happens During an Indictment?

In many states, the law requires a prosecutor to seek an indictment based on the nature of the alleged crime. Even if it is not a legal requirement, a prosecutor has the option of seeking an indictment before an arrest. Most prosecutors do not proceed with indictments unless they believe there is enough evidence to win. The process typically begins with the prosecutor filing a criminal complaint against the defendant.

An indictment is confusing in that it can take place at a few different stages of the criminal justice process. In some jurisdictions, indictments happen prior to arresting a suspect. In others, the suspect is arrested first and then the case goes out for indictment. An indictment may be sealed, or kept private, if it is necessary to reasonably prevent the suspect from fleeing or destroying evidence.

A grand jury indictment takes place before 15 to 23 local citizens who make up the jurors. The grand jury will assess physical evidence, sworn witness statements and other information to determine whether or not there is probable cause to file official criminal charges. An indictment is not the same as finding the defendant guilty or not guilty of the crime in question. It simply decides whether the prosecutor has grounds to file criminal charges.

Probable Cause vs. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Probable cause – the burden of proof for an indictment – means that there is enough evidence to make it reasonable for a suspect to be charged with a crime. This is the lowest burden of proof in the justice system. The burden of proof in a criminal case, on the other hand, is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest evidentiary standard. It means there is a greater than 99 percent chance the suspect committed the crime based on the evidence. Just because a suspect is indicted, therefore, does not mean there is enough evidence for a conviction.

What Happens After an Indictment?

If the grand jury finds probable cause to indict the suspect, he or she will be arrested if the arrest has not already taken place. Then, the case will go to trial. First, the prosecutor and the defense will go through several pretrial motions, processes and hearings. This may include depositions and interrogatories during the discovery phase, pretrial motions filed with the courts, and early hearings. Most criminal cases in Arizona end with plea deals. If a plea deal does not happen, however, the case will continue to trial.

Other Ways To File Criminal Charges in Arizona

An indictment is how prosecutors in Arizona must bring criminal charges against suspects for alleged felonies, in most cases. For lesser crimes, however, a prosecutor may be able to file criminal charges using a written complaint. The complaint submitted must include the essential facts of the case (often based on a police investigation) and describe how the suspect’s actions constitute a crime.

For an even lesser crime – a petty offense – a prosecutor can file criminal charges using only a citation. This is the appropriate process for a moving violation, for example, such as speeding or reckless driving. The responding police officer will issue the defendant a citation as a written ticket. The defendant will then have the choice to either fight the charges by attending a hearing or pay the fine to end the case.

If you have further questions about an indictment in Arizona, consult with a Queen Creek criminal defense attorney near you today.