A federal indictment takes place after a grand jury finds sufficient evidence that there has been a crime committed. An indictment is a determination that there is enough of a factual basis for criminal charges to be filed and barring other actions, a trial will likely ensue.

You can be indicted by being arrested for a felony and then having evidence presented to a grand jury. Under this scenario, you will be given a chance to present evidence to try and establish your innocence. You can also be indicted without being arrested. A grand jury can convene in secret and return a sealed indictment which means you did not know you were being arrested. When the sealed indictment is returned and unsealed, you are arrested at that point.

Probable cause is the standard

Unlike a trial where it must be proven that someone is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” for an indictment to take place, the lower standard of probable cause is all that is required. This means there is enough evidence to conclude that you probably committed the crime, but not enough evidence to prove you definitely committed the crime.

Because probable cause is such a low standard to prove, more often than not, grand juries will indict, based mostly on what a prosecutor advises.

Federal indictments often lead to plea bargains

Although indictments are common, in the vast majority of cases, they do not reach the trial stage. More often than not, defendants will avoid prosecution through pretrial motions or by striking a plea bargain. A plea bargain has to be acceptable to both the prosecution and the defense.

For the prosecution, they simply don’t have enough resources to try every case and may not want to commit what resources they have for a case they might lose. For a defendant, a plea bargain makes sense if they believe they will get a lighter sentence than through the outcome of a trial. A plea bargain may also mean a less serious mark on their criminal record, plus they will avoid the costs associated with going to trial. Estimates show that as many as 90% of cases end up in plea bargains.

The Law Office of Ginger Kelley serves clients in Newport Beach, Santa Ana and communities throughout Orange County, California.