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WHAT IS AN INDICTMENT?

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Since the Cumberland County grand jury met yesterday, they have already returned several indictments with more to come this week. A few of you have asked just what is an indictment. An indictment is a charge of a felony or serious crime voted by a grand jury based upon a proposed charge, witnesses’ testimony and other evidence presented by the public prosecutor or district attorney. To bring an indictment the grand jury will not find guilt, but only the probability that a crime was committed, that the accused person did it and that he/she should be tried. District attorneys often only introduce key facts sufficient to show the probability, both to save time and to avoid revealing all the evidence. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that “no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment of a grand jury.” However, while grand juries are common in charging federal crimes, many states and counties use grand juries sparingly and use the criminal complaint, followed by a “preliminary hearing” held by a lower court judge or other magistrate, who will determine whether or not the prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence that the accused has committed a felony. If the judge finds there is enough evidence, he/she will order the case sent to the appropriate court for trial. Cases in general sessions court can be bound over to a grand jury. If the grand jury returns indictments from a case that is bound over, the charges move to criminal court.


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