What Is a Direct Indictment Virginia and Why It Is Used?


If a grand jury has issued a direct indictment in Virginia against you, our experienced team of legal professionals can help. Contact us today.

What Is a Direct Indictment in Virginia?


An indictment is a written instrument submitted by a grand jury to a court with which a person is charged with committing a particular offense. It is simply an accusation that a person has committed a serious crime.

However, if a direct indictment exists, the case goes straight to trial while the preliminary hearing is skipped. Direct indictments are rarely used but, regardless, are very powerful.

Depending on the circumstances of the criminal case in question, you may not receive notice of the indictment ahead of time if you are subject to this type of indictment. In Virginia, direct indictments can occur even if the person is not notified they are under investigation or without a prior arrest.

Although these situations are rare, they do happen. It’s not uncommon for police to come to individuals’ places of employment or homes with arrest warrants.

If this happens to you, call an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. They can explain the legal processes and advise you on the way forward. To mitigate the potential impact of charges on the defendant, a criminal defense attorney must start building a case as soon as possible.


Indictment vs. Criminal Charges: What Is the Difference?

Legally, being indicted is not the same as being charged. The difference is in the process that leads to the criminal charges and who filed these charges. Typically, prosecutors file charges, and not all charges result in an indictment.

Conversely, only a grand jury can formally indict, and all indictments contain charges. In other words, an indictment means being formally charged by a grand jury with a felony.

Why Direct Indictments Are Used in Virginia


Indictments in the Commonwealth of Virginia usually occur at the Circuit Court level. However, many felony cases, even serious felonies, start at the General District Court level. You have the right to a preliminary hearing if an arrest warrant is issued for you, during which there is determined whether there is probable cause for the indictment of you.

Direct indictments present another way Virginia cases can be dealt with. Prosecutors can bypass the general district court and a preliminary hearing. With direct indictments, the Commonwealth presents probable cause directly to the grand jury, which consists of US citizens. During the grand jury proceedings, the prosecution presents their arguments, and the police present their testimony to establish probable cause.

How Does the Indictment Process Go?

Five grand jurors hear testimonies and evidence in a closed session; the defense attorney or the defendant are not allowed to be present. The grand jury returns an indictment as not a true bill or a true bill. In other words, if the grand jury thinks there is probable cause for an indictment, it is returned as a true bill.

If your indictment is returned as a true bill, you will then be notified by the law enforcement officer and served with the indictment in open court. If you don’t appear, the judge will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. If the case is proven and entered as a true bill, it is brought directly before a circuit court. However, that doesn’t mean the indicted individual is found guilty. It just means the prosecution has enough evidence to charge someone with a felony offense.

Because it is not a matter of guilt or innocence, the standard used to prove whether there is probable cause to charge an individual is low. This makes the indictment process relatively easy.

When Is a Direct Indictment Used?


Only a small number of criminal charges begin in Circuit Courts in the Commonwealth of Virginia because of direct indictments. Sometimes, if felony charges have been dismissed at the preliminary hearing by the General District Court, the Commonwealth’s attorney can seek an indictment from a grand jury.

However, a significantly high number of indictments are returned as true bills. If that occurs, the individual will be served with the indictments in open court. If they don’t appear, the judge will issue an arrest warrant.

If you are being investigated for a federal crime, bear in mind that these criminal investigations last for months or years before indictments are sought. If the government decides to arrest you for involvement in a federal criminal case, in some cases, they will get an arrest warrant before an indictment is handed down.

Hiring a federal criminal lawyer is necessary for crafting a defense strategy and protecting your rights.

What Happens After a Direct Indictment?


After getting an indictment, prosecutors typically obtain an arrest warrant, which names the individual prosecutors to want to arrest.

Taking a defendant into custody right after the indictment is essential to prevent potential leaks of information about the criminal case. In the federal system, one must appear before a federal Magistrate Judge within one to three days.

In the Virginia court system, if the grand jury returns an indictment against the defendant, they will be arrested and placed into police custody. Criminal defendants in Virginia are brought before a magistrate immediately after arrest, where they have a chance to be released on bond.

The Criminal Trial


After the indictment, a trial date is set. The judge will make sure the defendant understands their rights, the charges brought against them as well as potential penalties. The defendant will also plead guilty or not guilty.

It will also be determined if the defendant meets the qualifications for a court-appointed counsel or if they have secured a private attorney. Sometimes, defendants decide to represent themselves in these cases, although that is not recommended.

At both a jury trial and a bench trial, the Virginia prosecutor and your defense attorney will have the opportunity to question and cross-examine witnesses and submit other evidence to the court.

After both sides have presented their evidence, the judge or jury will give a verdict of guilty or not guilty. Sometimes a jury can’t reach a verdict, resulting in a mistrial. A sentencing hearing is held if the defendant is found guilty of some or all charges.

Can Virginia Direct Indictment Cases Be Dismissed?


Cases involving direct indictments rarely get dismissed at the grand jury stage. However, that doesn’t mean all cases that started with direct indictments result in convictions. Sometimes, these cases get dismissed for different reasons. For example, the dismissal can occur if the Circuit Court finds that the Commonwealth violated Virginia’s criminal procedure laws when seeking direct indictments.


Criminal Defense for Direct Indictments


If a grand jury has issued a direct indictment against you in the Commonwealth of Virginia, contact a criminal lawyer in Alexandria, VA, as soon as you can.

Although public defense attorneys are available, they are often overworked and underpaid. On the other hand, private attorneys will give your criminal case the attention it deserves. Whether your case involves a misdemeanor, felony, or federal court prosecution, Scrofano Law can assist you. Contact Gretchen Taylor Pousson today to schedule your consultation.


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