Whether you are elated or disgusted by the fact that former President Trump was indicted, you are likely curious as to what that means. The district attorney from Manhattan, Alvin Bragg, pursued charges, announced the indictment, and arraigned Mr. Trump after years of questions about the former president’s involvement in a hush-money scheme, surprising many onlookers. How did it all happen, and how will Trump’s experience with a criminal indictment parallel that of a typical person?
What is an Indictment, Anyway?
While most people have heard the term “indictment,” many are unsure as to what it really is. In a nutshell, an indictment is simply the formal term used to encompass an accusation of legal wrongdoing. In criminal court, it means that the district attorney calls for a grand jury made up of randomly picked typical people to hear evidence against a particular individual. Unlike a regular jury, this panel of people weighs information without the presence of a judge, questioning witnesses at will. A simple majority ultimately must determine that there is enough evidence to pursue an indictment.
More About the Grand Jury
A grand jury’s work is done outside of the public eye. The evidence they hear is one-sided because they are dealing with the question of whether or not there is evidence of criminal activity worth pursuing. Later, as in the case of Mr. Trump, if the grand jury votes to indict, the defendant will have an opportunity to stand trial before a jury of peers who hear both sides of the case in a more adversarial setting. Prior to any trial, however, attorneys for the defense may move to have the case dismissed. It could take months, or even years, for a case to finally land in a courtroom for the trial.
After the Indictment
Once a defendant is indicted, they are Mirandized and arrested. That often involves negotiation as to how and when the defendant surrenders to have mug shots and fingerprinting done. Unlike most defendants, Mr. Trump did not have a mugshot taken, largely because it was deemed unnecessary due to his public status. From there, the defendant is given the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty (Trump pleaded not guilty). The judge then rules on conditions for release by setting bond, releasing on recognizance, and so forth.
It is important to emphasize a few key points:
- In this country, a defendant is still considered innocent until proven guilty. The prosecution must prove guilt; the defense has no obligation whatsoever.
- An indictment is an accusation, not a conviction.
- Prosecutors must rely on the vote of a grand jury before they are able to indict anyone.
- Following an indictment, the conviction rate is over 90% Continue reading