What is a Federal Indictment?
A federal indictment is a formal legal document that charges an individual with a federal felony. Federal misdemeanors do not require an indictment, therefore an individual may be charged with a federal misdemeanor via a Bill of Information. As a side note, a Bill of Information is a written statement signed by a prosecutor that is filed with the clerk of court when charging an individual of a crime.
Usually, an indictment is issued after a grand jury convenes and determines that there is probable cause to believe that the person named in the indictment committed a crime. The indictment contains the basic information that informs the individual of the charges against him. This is slightly different from state court, where a judge usually determines if there is probable cause except in very serious cases such as murder or first degree rape.
To obtain an indictment, a prosecutor will present the evidence to an impartial group of citizens called a grand jury. Witnesses may be called to testify, evidence is shown to the grand jury, and an outline of the case is presented to the grand jury members. The grand jury listens to the prosecutor and witnesses, and then votes in secret on whether they believe that enough evidence exists to charge the person with a crime. A grand jury may decide not to charge an individual based upon the evidence, no indictment would come from the grand jury. All proceedings and statements made before a grand jury are sealed, meaning that only the people in the room have knowledge about who said what about whom. The grand jury is a constitutional requirement for certain types of crimes.
If You Have Been Federally Indicted…
Have you been issued a federal indictment? If so, this is an extremely serious time in your life. Many federal crimes have the potential to result in long prison sentences. Combine that with the high conviction rate of 95% in federal court and it equals a serious situation for an individual. At this point, it is imperative that you hire a lawyer. Everything must be done to increase your chances acquittal or, if that is not an option, create a strong case for mitigation.
Receiving a federal indictment, while serious, does not mean that one should give up hope and succumb to the wishes of the prosecutor. An experienced federal defense attorney at your side throughout the entire federal criminal proceeding will fight for you.
A criminal defense attorney can determine what defenses may be applicable in your specific circumstance. For example, evidence seized illegally under the 4th Amendment must be suppressed and cannot be considered by the court. In many cases where evidence is suppressed, the charges get dropped. Other cases may hinge on the reliability of scientific evidence; so even if it seems like hope is lost, that isn’t necessarily the case.
In cases where the prosecutors have a strong case, an experienced attorney can create a case for mitigation, hoping to convince the judge to be lenient and sentence the defendant in the lower range of the sentencing guidelines.
The bottom line is that being federally indicted is a serious matter, but not so much that one should give up hope. There is always something that can be done to increase the chances of acquittal or at least the opportunity to convince the court to implement a fair sentence.
If you have been issued a federal indictment, you need to consult with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney. Doing so will ensure that you are well represented during what is likely going to be the most important, stressful time of your life.