Does Indictment Mean Jail Time?

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The legal process of the criminal justice system is a complex labyrinth of courtrooms and lawyers—jargon and Latin phrases that seem Greek to the uninitiated.

It’s not surprising that many people have misconceptions about some of the processes involved in a legal procedure. One of which is an indictment.

What does indictment mean, and does it constitute jail time? Some believe an indictment is a conviction that results in jail time but is that the case?

How does the court handle indictments? Do they involve a jury, and what happens next?

This article will shed light on the indictment procedure and how the court goes through this initial phase of charging someone with a crime.

You’ll get more information on how a criminal case begins and the people and agencies involved in this legal procedure.

Furthermore, this write-up will walk you through the indictment process, the presentation of evidence before a grand jury, and the different scenarios that can happen to a defendant if indicted.

The indictment process formally charges an individual with a criminal offense. However, there are cases where the defendant goes into custody after indictment due to the nature of their crime.

Suppose your loved one gets indicted and goes into custody. You’ll need to talk with the jail or prison authorities to continue communicating and supporting your incarcerated loved one.

You can access jail and prison contact information by visiting, which contains a database of more than 7,000 correctional facilities in California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, and other states in the United States. Aside from contact information, inmate records are also available to help you and your loved one navigate this challenging legal process.

What Does “Indicted” Mean?

A person is indicted when a grand jury has determined through the evidence and witnesses presented by the prosecution that they’re likely guilty of the crimes charged against them.

What Is a Federal Indictment?

A federal indictment is a formal accusation from a grand jury given to a person suspected of committing a federal crime. A group of 16 to 23 people makes up a grand jury. As a collective, they determine whether the evidence given by the prosecution is enough for an indictment.

How Does an Indictment Happen?

The indictment process starts with an investigation initiated by a prosecutor. After gathering evidence, the prosecutor presents the evidence to a grand jury.

After deliberation, the grand jury decides whether to charge the defendant based on the evidence. If the jury sides with the prosecutor, it will return with an indictment.

The prosecutor then files the indictment in court, and the criminal case begins. The defendant is notified of the indictment and that the trial must proceed within 70 days.

Understanding the Federal Indictment Process

The indictment process is essential in starting a federal criminal case against a suspect. The defendant is notified upon filing the indictment in court, and a trial is set within 70 days. However, the defendant can waive the right to a speedy trial and delay the schedule to within 90 days for misdemeanors and 175 days for felonies.

What Is a Sealed Federal Indictment?

A sealed indictment is an indictment not made public or kept secret. One reason for a sealed indictment is to prevent a defendant from escaping once they get word of the ongoing investigation.

Does an Indictment Mean That You’re Guilty?

No, an indictment is different from a conviction. A grand jury can’t determine guilt during an indictment. The jurors can only decide whether the evidence provided by the prosecutor shows probable cause and that the defendant is most likely to have committed the crime.

Does a Federal Court Indictment Mean Jail Time?

The next step after an indictment is the issuance of an arrest warrant. A defendant with a warrant goes to jail in the first instance but can be released through bail.

Who Can Be Indicted?

Anyone charged with a federal offense can be indicted. The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment states that crimes punishable with long sentences or death must first be indicted.

The Supreme Court further interprets that the clause in the Fifth pertains to federal charges. On the other hand, states are not required to have indictments before a trial. Likewise, the Armed Forces don’t need indictments for trials via court marshal.

How to Conduct a Federal Indictment Lookup

You can look up indictment information through PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records).

PACER is a nationwide system that can provide information about an indictment. If you have questions about this system, you can ask lawyers to assist you.

What Happens After a Federal Criminal Indictment?

Five outcomes can happen after a federal indictment. You can talk to a lawyer to understand the best option for your or your loved one’s case. To prepare for such scenarios, here are the five things that could happen after an indictment:

  1. Pretrial dismissal: This outcome can happen if insufficient evidence or irregularities are found during the prosecution’s evidence collection. A defendant’s lawyer can use this motion to dismiss.
  2. Mistrial: When the jury can’t decide unanimously over a case, the judge may declare a mistrial. The case can be dropped or filed again with better evidence.
  3. Plea agreement: The prosecution and defense may come to a plea agreement and not continue to a trial.
  4. “Guilty” verdict: When the evidence is strong and beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury or judge will return with a guilty verdict.
  5. “Not guilty” verdict: When the grand jury determines that the evidence doesn’t prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, it can return a “not guilty” verdict.

How Does a Criminal Case Begin?

A criminal case begins at the onset of the investigation of a crime. However, a federal case can only move forward after an indictment. Typically, the timeframe from an indictment to the start of a trial is one year. However, it still depends on the speed of the prosecution in gathering evidence to file a case.

What Is a Criminal Complaint?

A criminal complaint is a document filed by a prosecutor that contains the facts about an alleged crime. The complaint, supported by law enforcement, is filed to a judge to determine probable cause to issue an arrest warrant.

What Is Criminal Information?

Criminal information is a charging document or formal accusation that does not require a grand jury’s vote. A competent public officer can file a criminal information document under oath.

What’s the Difference Between a Complaint and an Indictment?

A complaint is a statement that accuses someone of a crime. The statement contains the essential facts of a crime and is made under oath in front of a law enforcement officer.

Meanwhile, an indictment is a statement from a grand jury determining the probability of a defendant being guilty of a crime. Federal cases require an indictment, while state and county criminal cases do not.

The Difference Between a Criminal Complaint and Criminal Information

A criminal complaint is a statement of a complainant made under oath in front of a law enforcement officer. Criminal information is a statement with the facts of a criminal complaint drafted by the prosecution. A magistrate judge decides upon both complaint and information.

A criminal complaint and criminal information aim to establish probable cause, which is required to make an arrest.

What Is a Grand Jury?

A group of 16 to 23 individuals makes up the grand jury. These individuals are required by law to make an unbiased decision over specific criminal cases based on the U.S. Constitution.

When Are Grand Juries Used in Place of Criminal Charges?

The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas stated that experienced prosecutors could indict anyone for almost anything in front of a grand jury. The statement shows the purpose of grand juries for a prosecutor working on a criminal case.

In the following scenarios, prosecutors may prefer grand juries to straight up filing a criminal charge:

  • There is a high public interest in the case
  • The alleged crime is a serious felony case
  • The case involves a public officer
  • The witnesses for the case are inmates in a state prison
  • The case is weak, and the prosecutor wants to test their case in front of a jury

What Is a Grand Jury Indictment?

A grand jury indictment is an accusation formally made against an individual suspected of committing a federal crime.

Prosecutors present evidence during a grand jury proceeding to determine whether there’s probable cause to believe that the accused person committed the crime.

What Happens After a Grand Jury Indictment?

The next thing that happens after a grand jury indictment is the defendant’s arrest. An arrest warrant is issued to detain a defendant and avoid information leaks or possible escapes.

Do You Have to Go Before a Federal Grand Jury?

The defendant and their criminal defense lawyer don’t have the right to appear before a federal grand jury.

The defendant is not present during indictment proceedings. The accused is not notified that they’re being investigated and is distanced from the proceedings. However, the defendant is notified and ordered by law to attend court hearings after an indictment and an arrest warrant are issued.

Federal Indictments

A federal indictment is a requirement for federal-level felony cases to proceed in a district court.

On the other hand, states are not required to have indictments before filing a criminal charge against someone.

Arrest Warrant

A warrant of arrest is a judge’s written order authorizing the police to arrest a person accused of a crime. Arrest warrants from indictments are based on the evidence presented by the federal prosecutor in front of grand jurors.

Initial Appearance

A defendant’s first appearance in a court is called the “initial appearance”. The initial appearance should happen within 24 hours of the defendant’s arrest.


The arraignment is when the judge informs the defendant of the following:

  • The charges against a defendant
  • The rights of the defendant
  • The chance to have a public defender provided by the court if the defendant can’t afford one

During the arraignment, the defendant has three ways to respond:

  • A “not guilty” plea: The defendant contests the charges and the trial begins
  • A “guilty” plea: Before the court, the defendant admits to the charges filed
  • No contest: Similar to the “guilty” plea, the defendant agrees with the charges

Preliminary Hearing

A preliminary hearing happens around 10 days after a defendant’s arrest. However, this hearing is no longer necessary if a grand jury returns an indictment to the defendant.

The March Towards a Criminal Trial

For a federal case, an indictment is a clear first step toward a criminal trial. A grand jury proceeding only needs probable cause for an indictment. However, in a criminal trial, there must be sufficient evidence to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt for a conviction.

The Option to Plead Guilty

A plea bargain is an option where the defendant can plead guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence or speed up the trial to reduce cost and public exposure.

A defendant can also plead guilty if they openly admit to the crime before a judge. It’s best to seek legal help from an attorney before choosing a guilty plea.

What Is a Criminal Charge?

A criminal charge is an accusation directly filed by a prosecutor instead of a grand jury. The next step after filing formal charges is a preliminary hearing, where the judge determines probable cause.


The federal government files a criminal case through the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Individuals don’t file charges for federal criminal cases. Allegations or reports of criminal behavior should be coursed through the police, FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), or the appropriate law enforcement agency.


The place of the trial is called a venue. Criminal trials take place in one of the 94 district courts in the United States.

Finding Federal Indictment Records

Here are the ways to find federal indictment records:

  • Search using Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER)
  • Ask the clerk’s office where the case was filed
  • Search for the record at the National Archives
  • Search for the record at the Supreme Court, U.S. District Courts, or U.S. Court of Appeals

You can also find court records using You’ll get access to court records of inmates incarcerated in jails, prisons, and penitentiaries in the United States.

What’s Needed to Get a Federal Indictment?

A person can only get a federal indictment if the crime is a federal offense. If not, a prosecutor can file charges directly in court and begin the trial process. They’ll also need to convince grand jury members of the strength of the evidence to return an indictment.

How to Determine if a Person Has Been Indicted

You can get information if a person has been indicted by calling the district clerk’s office and asking if an indictment has been returned.

Sets of indictments are typically made public a few hours after the grand jury meets.

Indictment Definition

An indictment is a formal charge against a person accused of a criminal offense. A grand jury returns an indictment after deliberation of evidence provided by a prosecutor.

Indicted vs. Arrested

An indictment is the grand jury’s decision after determining that the evidence provided shows probable cause. Meanwhile, an arrest detains someone into custody after a judge or magistrate authorizes it.

Indicted vs. Charged

The difference between indicted and charged is the person who filed the charges. A prosecutor can file a charge, but a grand jury can return an indictment.

Indicted vs. Convicted

An indictment happens when a grand jury determines that the evidence is enough for probable cause.

Meanwhile, a conviction happens when the judge sentences the defendant for the crime. Remember that indictment does not mean that the accused is guilty.

Key Takeaways

Here are key takeaways from reading this article:

  • An indictment is not a conviction
  • Prosecutors alone can’t indict
  • Prosecutors control the grand jury proceedings

Can an Indictment Be Sealed?

Yes, an indictment kept secret from the public is a sealed indictment. This secrecy aims to prevent someone from fleeing to elude law enforcement.

Can an Indictment Be Dismissed?

The prosecutor can dismiss an indictment, yet it’s rarely done and not recommended.

What to Do if You’ve Been Indicted

It’s best to seek legal advice when you’re indicted. You might get arrested after an indictment, especially if the judge or magistrate issued an arrest warrant.

Do You Need a Lawyer if You’ve Been Indicted?

It’s highly recommended to hire an attorney when you’re facing an indictment or arrest. They can help you navigate through this predicament and plan your next move.

What Should You Look for When Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney?

When you need someone to help you out during this kind of situation, you can do so by hiring a criminal defense attorney. These people are expected to give you an overview of the criminal law applicable to your situation.

The government provides criminal defense attorneys that offer free consultations for defendants who can’t afford legal counsel.


1. Charging
2. Fifth Amendment
3. Pre-Trial Motions
5. Types of Juries
6. Arrest warrant
7. How Criminal Cases Work
8. Plea Bargaining
10. Indictment

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