How Does a Criminal Indictment Work?
Individuals who commit a crime are given formal notice of their crimes through an indictment. It is a written instrument that informs the individual of the charges against them.
Many felony charges typically begin with a grand jury indictment issued by a circuit court. As part of its decision, the grand jury considers the proposed charge, any physical evidence available, and the testimony of witnesses. The grand jury will make a final decision regarding whether to proceed with the case.
In a direct indictment in Virginia, the preliminary hearing is omitted to send the criminal case directly to the grand jury. Despite their rarity, direct indictments can be very powerful and are often sought by the United States Government. 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.
A person who is indicted on felony charges in Virginia will face stiffer penalties than someone indicted on common criminal charges in Virginia. It is, therefore, imperative that you hire a seasoned criminal defense lawyer in order to preserve your freedom.
Who Decides Whether to Indict?
A charge is filed by the state prosecutor, while indictments are filed by the grand jury (an impartial group of citizens in Virginia). Before the grand jury can file an indictment against a defendant, the state prosecutor must appear with evidence of the alleged crime committed.
In reviewing all the evidence presented by the prosecutor, the jury will decide if there is enough evidence to prove that a serious crime was committed. If the grand jury believes there is a strong likelihood of the defendant’s guilt based on all available evidence presented by the prosecution, they will return the indictment as a true bill.
The majority of indictments in Virginia are returned as true bills. A true bill indictment will be served on you in open court by law enforcement, but if you do not appear, the court may issue a bench warrant (capias) for your arrest or a summons.
Indictments Process in Virginia
In Virginia, most felony indictments occur at the circuit court level, but most felony cases begin at the general district court level. The indictment is generally issued only after the preliminary hearing has been completed. Consequently, Virginia does not indict all felony cases.
If the grand jury returns an indictment, the Circuit Court clerk must submit a certified copy to the Supreme Court clerk, who keeps such documents for public access.
The following process usually follows the indictment process:
Arrest and Booking
After an indictment, the person accused receives formal notice of the criminal charges against them, and the judge may issue an arrest warrant. The defendant will be detained pending their appearance before a Judge, usually the next business day.
If you are indicted for a felony offense, you will need the assistance of a Virginia criminal lawyer to help you build your defense and reduce your charges.
Bail or Bond
The judge will examine the defendant’s criminal history, including any prior arrest, and the particular offense they are charged with to determine if they can post bail or bond. The defendant may remain in jail if:
There is a presumption against the bond
No condition will reasonably assure their appearance at trial
If their freedom will constitute an unreasonable danger to them, their family, or the public.
Arraignment/First Hearing and Preliminary Hearing
At the arraignment, the defendant will be informed of the charges against them and their right to legal representation. If the defendant is indigent, a court-appointed counsel may be made available, or they can appoint their own counsel to represent them in court. The defendant may be remanded in custody pending a trial date.
The court will review the prosecution’s case against the defendant at the preliminary hearing to determine probable cause. If a direct indictment is made, the preliminary hearing will be omitted, and the case will be sent straight to trial.
Trial and Appeal
During the felony trial, the prosecution and defense present their evidence before the judge and jury. Both parties cross-examine witnesses, and after each side has presented its case, the judge or jury will render a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
A felony offense will not go to trial if the defendant pleads guilty at the hearing or if the court dismisses the case for lack of sufficient evidence. The defendant’s defense attorney can appeal the outcome of a federal criminal case if they are unsatisfied with the outcome.
Because of the swift nature of the court process in Virginia, you should consult a criminal lawyer to guide you through the criminal court process.
How Long Does a Virginia Criminal Indictment Take?
A statute of limitation sets the time limit for the parties involved in the legal processes of a dispute to commence an action in court. The right to bring legal action is lost if the statute of limitations expires. Therefore any legal action initiated in court will be deemed invalid.
In Virginia, misdemeanor crimes have varying statutes of limitations, while felonies have no statute of limitations, and charges can be filed at any time.
In some circumstances, the court may delay or extend the limitations period to give the government more time to establish evidence in a case. The statute will also not run where the defendant attempts to evade arrest.
Read Scrofano Law’s guide to the Virginia statute of limitations: criminal or contact us for guidance and representation.
Can Virginia Criminal Indictment Cases Be Dismissed?
Cases involving direct indictments rarely get dismissed at the grand jury stage. Nevertheless, not all cases that start with direct indictments result in convictions. If a circuit court determines that Virginia’s criminal procedure laws were violated (e.g., a person’s sixth amendment rights were violated), the case can be dismissed.
How Can You Check if You Have an Indictment?
Indictment notices are public records that can be accessed at a county or federal courthouse. The county and federal courthouse lists indictments, including the names, charges, and a statement from the district attorney’s office certifying the indictment.
Indictment records are also available online through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). In addition, you can check for charges on the Virginia General District Court and Circuit Court online case information systems.
In some situations, the court may seal indictment records until the suspect has been arrested. The public cannot see a sealed indictment.
Contact Scrofano Law, PC Today!
The importance of hiring a criminal defense attorney cannot be overstated when dealing with a criminal prosecution. The sentences imposed can have a significant impact on your personal and professional life. Scrofano Law can help you regardless of whether you are charged with a misdemeanor, felony, or federal offense. Our attorneys will give your case the attention it deserves and ensure that your rights are protected.
Contact Jay P. Mykytiuk of Scrofano Law today to schedule your free consultation.
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