If you have ever faced allegations involving federal criminal offenses, you understand the deep fear that comes with your circumstances. In many cases, the approach to prosecuting individuals accused of federal crimes is more involved than state-level offenses.
Often, North Carolina prosecutors want an indictment from a grand jury before taking the case before a judge and a regular jury. What does all this mean for the defendant? Since defendants have a stake in these proceedings, they have a right to know about the indictment process.
What is a grand jury?
Unlike regular juries, a grand jury does not decide if a defendant is innocent or guilty. Instead, this panel of individuals must determine if enough evidence exists to warrant a trial. It need not be a unanimous decision but is simply a matter of majority rule.
If a grand jury decides enough evidence exists for a trial, it will hand down an indictment. For context, two federal offenses commonly heard before a grand jury include drug trafficking and weapons trafficking.
What does indictment mean?
The term indictment refers to a formal document prepared after the grand jury decides to indict. It contains language formally accusing the defendant of committing a federal crime. It should also provide details about the specific charges the defendant is facing.
Is a grand jury a bad thing?
An indictment doesn’t mean you’ll be convicted, and the bar is so low for prosecutors to obtain a grand jury’s indictment that many have said they don’t really mean much for defendants. Just the same, the situation IS serious.
Most federal criminal defense attorneys seek to have a defendant’s charges reduced or eliminated (in a “best case” scenario) to avoid a grand jury. A huge benefit to having the charges against you reduced is that your trial will take place in a state court instead of a federal court. It is always wise to seek experienced representation anytime you face federal charges.