Understanding Criminal Indictments: What You Need to Know

Lerner & Rowe Law Group
Criminal Indictments in Arizona

The legal process can be a daunting thing, particularly when you find yourself facing criminal charges. While it may seem that the prosecution process kicks off with an arrest, the reality often involves a crucial preliminary step in felony cases: the criminal indictment. 

In this blog article, we’ll shed light on the concept of being indicted in Arizona and how a seasoned defense attorney can safeguard your rights and freedom.

What Does it Mean to be Indicted in Arizona?

To be indicted is to face formal allegations of committing a crime. Importantly, this doesn’t equate to an immediate declaration of guilt or incarceration. Instead, it is a pivotal component of the charging process in felony criminal prosecution. Being indicted signifies that a grand jury has identified probable cause to believe that you have committed a criminal offense.

An indictment, in legal terms, is a “formal accusation of a criminal offense.” Drafted by the prosecutor, although subject to the grand jury’s final judgment, it details the specific crime and any associated charges that the prosecution seeks to pursue. 

Notably, only grand juries possess the authority to indict individuals in criminal cases. These grand juries deliberate on the evidence presented to determine whether the case can advance based on the collected evidence. If the grand jury decides in favor of indictment, formal charges are then levied against the defendant.

Distinguishing Indictment from Arrest

Indictments can unfold either before or after an arrest in Arizona. When law enforcement observes a crime in progress, they can proceed with an arrest and initiate an investigation. However, if there’s suspicion of criminal activity without concrete evidence, the prosecution may opt to present evidence to a grand jury to seek an indictment and an accompanying arrest warrant.

Indictment vs. Criminal Charges: Understanding the Legal Distinctions 

While being indicted and being charged may appear closely aligned, the primary distinction lies in the entity initiating the charges. When a prosecutor brings forth criminal charges against a defendant, it’s termed “being charged” with a crime. On the other hand, when a grand jury returns a “true bill” (a request for charges), it’s known as an indictment. 

For defendants, the distinction matters as there are different legal challenges to be brought when someone is indicted as opposed to being charged by a direct complaint by a prosecutor.  

Indictment vs. Conviction

As previously stated, an indictment doesn’t imply guilt for the alleged crime. A criminal defendant is still presumed innocent when indicted for a criminal offense. The criminal case will proceed through a series of pretrial hearings until an individual makes a choice between accepting a pretrial resolution or proceeding to trial. A skilled criminal defense attorney plays a pivotal role in either securing a favorable plea agreement or preparing the case for success at trial, whichever is in the person’s best interest. 

A conviction occurs at the end of a case when the criminal defendant has either entered a guilty plea or been found guilty at trial, whereas an indictment signals the commencement of a criminal proceeding. In many cases, an indictment is returned before a suspect even becomes aware of the accusations leveled against them. 

A conviction, conversely, follows a guilty plea or a determination of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of peers.

Indictment vs. Complaint: The Arizona Distinction

In Arizona, two distinct avenues exist for charging an individual with a crime. A prosecutor may opt for a direct complaint following receipt of law enforcement’s arrest report and request for charges. 

Typically this happens in misdemeanor and lower-level cases. Indictments by grand juries are generally reserved for felony charges. For federal felony offenses such as drug trafficking or kidnapping, the federal government mandates the use of a federal grand jury for indictment.

Prosecutors often favor indictment over direct complaint charges in more serious cases, as it enables the presentation of evidence and witness testimonies against the defendant without their presence.  The ease of getting an indictment is why it is said that a  ”grand jury would indict a ham sandwich.”

Does Being Indicted Mean You’re Going to Jail?

An indictment, while a scary term, does not automatically translate to a prison sentence. It simply signifies that the prosecution has convinced a grand jury of the existence of probable cause to hold the accused to stand for trial. The first hearing following an Indictment is the arraignment. You are presumed innocent and retain the option to plead “not guilty” to the alleged crimes and contest the charges in a criminal trial.

What Happens After a Grand Jury Indictment

A grand jury is composed of 9 to 16 citizens in Arizona who review the evidence presented by the prosecutor to make a determination whether probable cause exists. If there is a finding of probable cause by at least nine grand jury members, they return a true bill, constituting the indictment. If the jurors fail to find probable cause, a “no bill” is returned, resulting in the dismissal of charges.

Following a grand jury indictment, a summons or an arrest warrant will be issued unless you are already in custody. Your first court appearance, the arraignment, becomes the stage for hearing the charges against you. At this juncture, you can enter your plea, whether “guilty” or “not guilty,” and explore the potential for a plea bargain.

The Role of a Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney

Being represented by an experienced attorney when indicted in Arizona, or in any way charged with criminal offense, offers several significant benefits. Arizona, like many states, has its own criminal laws and procedures, and navigating the legal system can be complex and challenging. 

Here are 10 key advantages of having an experienced defense attorney by your side:

  1. Knowledge of Arizona Law: experienced attorneys in Arizona are well-versed in the state’s criminal laws, which can be quite unique and different from federal laws or laws in other states. A local criminal defense attorney at Lerner and Rowe Law Group understands the specific statutes, case precedents, and legal strategies relevant to Arizona, which is crucial for building a strong defense.
  2. Understanding of Local Court Systems: our Arizona criminal attorneys are familiar with the local court systems, judges, prosecutors, and court personnel. This knowledge can be invaluable when it comes to understanding how cases are typically handled, which strategies work best in certain jurisdictions, and how to negotiate effectively.
  3. Legal Expertise: attorneys who specialize in criminal defense have in-depth knowledge of criminal law and procedure. They can analyze the details of your case, identify legal issues, and develop a tailored defense strategy to protect your rights and interests.
  4. Case Evaluation: a criminal defense attorney can thoroughly evaluate the evidence against you and assess the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case. They can identify potential legal defenses, procedural errors, or violations of your constitutional rights that could lead to a favorable outcome.
  5. Negotiation Skills: in many cases, experienced attorneys can negotiate with prosecutors to reach a plea agreement that minimizes the charges or penalties you may face. They know how to leverage their legal expertise to secure the best possible deal for their clients.
  6. Trial Experience: if your case goes to trial, having an attorney with trial experience is crucial. They can present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and make persuasive arguments in court to defend your innocence or mitigate your charges.
  7. Protection of Rights: criminal defense attorneys ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process. This includes your right to remain silent, your right to due process, and your right to a fair trial. They can also challenge any violations of your rights.
  8. Reduced Stress: facing criminal charges can be emotionally and mentally taxing. Having an experienced attorney can provide peace of mind, knowing that you have a knowledgeable advocate working on your behalf. This can help reduce the stress associated with the legal process.
  9. Customized Legal Strategies: every case is unique, and experienced attorneys understand the importance of tailoring legal strategies to the specific circumstances of your case. They can explore all available options and recommend the most effective course of action.
  10. Maximized Chances of Success: ultimately, having an experienced attorney increases your chances of a favorable outcome, whether it’s a dismissal of charges, a reduced sentence, or an acquittal at trial. They can use their expertise to fight for your best interests and protect your future.

In summary, hiring an experienced attorney from the Lerner and Rowe Law Group when facing criminal charges is a wise investment in your defense. Their knowledge, skills, and experience can make a substantial difference in the outcome of your case, potentially leading to a more favorable resolution and protecting your rights throughout the legal process.

Contact Our Phoenix Criminal Defense Lawyers 

If you are facing criminal charges and require a Phoenix defense lawyer, contact us at 602-667-7777. Our lawyers are available 24/7 by phone and online, and consultations are free.

We also offer affordable payment plans. You can count on Lerner & Rowe Law Group to provide you with the best defense possible!

The information on this blog is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to serve as legal advice for an individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor does viewing this material constitute an attorney-client relationship.