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What Is the Difference Between Getting Charged and Being Indicted?


When it comes to criminal law, some terms might appear like they mean the same thing, but they don’t. Two of these terms are “charged” and “indicted.” Understanding the difference between these two terms is crucial to understand the stages of the legal process. Knowing the difference between getting charged and indicted can help a defendant understand their legal rights. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand the difference between the terms “charged” and “indicted.” But even before speaking to an attorney, read on for a brief explanation of the difference between getting charged and being indicted.

Getting Charged vs Being Indicted

A person is charged when a law enforcement agency or prosecutor formally accuses them of committing a crime. A person is charged with a crime when law enforcement or a prosecutor believes there is enough evidence to convict the person of a crime. On the other hand, a person is indicted when a grand jury finds that there is enough evidence to warrant a criminal charge. Usually, indictments are used in federal cases and state felonies. Once a prosecutor convenes a grand jury, they provide the evidence they have against the defendant and ask for an indictment on the charges presented. The grand jury examines the evidence presented by the prosecutor and then decides if there is enough evidence to warrant a criminal charge. If the jurors find that there is enough evidence to warrant a criminal charge, the case proceeds. Otherwise, that is the end of the case.

To summarize, being charged means law enforcement or a prosecutor has formally accused you of committing a crime, while being indicted means a grand jury has decided that the prosecutor can proceed to formally charge you.

What Happens at a Grand Jury Hearing?

In the U.S., a federal grand jury typically comprises 16 to 23 impartial citizens. However, the exact number of jurors needed may depend on the jurisdiction and state laws. Unlike criminal trials, grand jury hearings are closed proceedings. During a grand jury hearing, the prosecutor presents evidence, which can include physical evidence, witness testimony, and documents. Witnesses may be called to testify, but the accused and their attorney do not get a chance to be present and cross-examine the witnesses. The grand jury then considers the evidence and legal instructions given to them by a judge or the prosecutor and deliberates. After deliberation, the grand jury votes on whether there is enough probable cause to indict the accused and proceed to trial. In federal cases and many states, a minimum of 12 grand jurors need to agree that probable cause exists for an indictment to be issued.

It is vital to note that an indictment does not mean a person is guilty. It simply means there is enough evidence for the person to be formally charged and for the case to proceed to trial.

Contact an NYC Criminal Defense Attorney

For more information, contact our skilled NYC criminal attorney, Mark I. Cohen. We are also here if you or someone you know is in legal trouble.



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