Indictable Offense: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Jennifer Schneider

Jennifer teaches critical thinking, legal writing and research, business law and justice studies courses. She has a law degree.

In this lesson, we will learn about the meaning of an indictable offense. We will also review examples of indictable offenses and consider possible penalties for someone convicted of this type of offense.

Formal Charges of Wrongdoing

Competitive sports are not for the faint of heart. Players often overstep acceptable boundaries and push harder than official rules permit. Sometimes, these infractions go without action. Other times, a formal foul or penalty is recognized. During game play a spectator or coach might point to evidence of inappropriate behavior on the field. However, spectators and even coaches do not typically have authority to charge an overly aggressive player with an actual foul. Sure, a spectator's yelling might draw attention to the infraction and gain the referee's attention (just like an anonymous tip to a police hotline can alert officials of a possible perpetrator of a crime). A referee or an appointed authority, though, must officially rule on whether or not there is enough evidence to charge a player with a documented foul.

Often, evidence, such as a referee's initial view of a play or instant replay footage, supporting aggressive play or inappropriate pushing is presented to an appointed panel of referees for review. In cases of possible penalty beyond a current game, the referees might not determine guilt of the athlete, but rather whether or not there is sufficient evidence of inappropriate behavior in order to pursue formal charges.

An indictment (a charge of documented criminal charges that has been issued against a party, where a reviewing body has found that sufficient evidence exists to justify trying the potential defendant for the described crime) is, in many ways, quite similar to the charge of a serious and formal foul in the sports arena. An indictable offense, like a prohibited foul, is first presented to a governing body (a grand jury) for a ruling on whether charges will be brought.

Indictments and Indictable Offenses

An indictable offense is a crime that a prosecutor can charge by bringing evidence of the alleged crime to a grand jury. The purpose of the grand jury is not to determine or decide the guilt or innocence of the potential defendant. Rather, the grand jury decides whether there is probable cause (sufficient evidence suggesting that a potential defendant actually committed the crime in question) to prosecute (bring criminal charges or an indictment against) the potential defendant for a felony crime. A prosecutor presents evidence in connection with the alleged crime to the grand jury. The grand jury evaluates the evidence and decides if the evidence demonstrates probable cause to believe or suspect that the potential defendant committed the crime the prosecutor charges.

Example of an indictment
Example of an indictment

If probable cause is not established, the criminal defendant is typically free to leave the courtroom and the court system. If probable cause is established and an indictment is filed with the court, the formal indictment then replaces the existing criminal complaint against the defendant. The defendant will then proceed through the criminal court system. In order to convict the defendant of the indictable offense, the alleged criminal charges must be proven at a subsequent trial, absent a plea (for example, a statement acknowledging guilt) that takes place prior to the trial.

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