What is an Indictment? - Definition, Process & Example

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  • 0:00 What Is an Indictment?
  • 1:34 Process
  • 2:34 Sealed & Unsealed Indictments
  • 2:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After you finish this lesson, you will understand what an indictment is and what the process is for an indictment to be issued. In addition, you will review an indictment example.

What Is an Indictment?

In order to best understand what an indictment is and when an indictment is issued, it is useful to demonstrate through example. Let's say a woman named Annie is a suspect for the crime of murder. Before she can be arrested, there is an investigation and gathering of evidence by the police. Once the police and prosecutors believe they have sufficient evidence against Annie, they present this evidence to a grand jury. A grand jury is a gathering of citizens that evaluates evidence and decides if an indictment is warranted. In this case, the grand jury decides if there is sufficient evidence to arrest Annie. Once she's arrested, she waits in jail for a brief amount of time until she appears before a judge. At this point, the formal charges she is facing are read aloud to her in court. This is known as the criminal indictment.

An indictment is a formal document which lists the charges a defendant faces. For our scenario, the purpose of this particular indictment is to serve notice of the criminal charges against Annie and to provide her with her constitutional rights to due process. The concept of due process is that the state must follow legal procedures while charging a citizen with a crime. This means the state cannot deprive a citizen of their rights while charging one with a crime. In this context, due process means Annie's rights to know the charges against her and be able to provide a defense.

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