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What Is a Federal Indictment?

An indictment is essentially a formal accusation based on a severe or serious criminal offense. The prosecution files a complaint, legally referred to as information or accusation, in a court of law. Upon the filing and recording of the complaint, a federal indictment is issued by a federal court of law that becomes the written document detailing the accusations brought up against an individual. Such accusations usually involve felonies or crimes that have violated federal laws.

Also referred to as a true bill or a bill of indictment, a federal indictment is the second step in a string of legal processes undertaken by the prosecution against a felon. A grand jury, a jury composed of 16 - 23 citizens called to jury duty, reviews the evidence and the information provided for by the prosecution in order to determine if the case is strong enough to hold up in a federal court of law. Once it has been proven to be strong enough, the grand jury returns the federal indictment and the legal proceedings against the defendant continue. The jury foreman or forewoman delivers a true bill to the federal judge who then issues a warrant of arrest for the defendant. However, if the grand jury finds that the case is lacking or insufficient, then it returns no bill.

A federal indictment usually details the information relevant to the case such as the name of the defendant, the felony committed and how it was committed as well as when and where it was done.

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