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An indictment must contain several things, such as:
- The signatures of the prosecutor who brought the case to the grand jury and the foreperson of the grand jury
- A short, plain and clear statement of the important facts of the case that show that the crime was committed
- The elements of the crime charged and a statement of the facts and circumstances that explain how you committed each element of that specific crime. This requirement is perhaps the most important because an indictment needs to be specific enough so that: (1) You know what crime you need to defend against, and; (2) You can avoid being prosecuted later for the same crime after you’ve been convicted or acquitted
- The name the of statute, rule, regulation or other law that you’re charged with violating, as well as where it may be found in the law books (called it’s “citation”)
Errors in an indictment may make it invalid, and if you’re convicted, you may be able to get the conviction reversed or thrown out. For instance, you may be able to claim that an indictment is invalid because it doesn’t contain:
- Specific facts showing that you committed the crime charged. For example, an indictment charging a defendant with “contempt of Congress” for refusing to answer questions during an inquiry is likely invalid if doesn’t specify the questions he refused to answer
- All the elements of an offense. For example, an indictment under a federal law that deals with crimes committed by Native Americans on Native American lands is likely invalid if it doesn’t state that the defendant is, in fact, a Native American
These are just two examples of how errors may make an indictment invalid. If you’ve been indicted, you need to read the indictment carefully, and if you have any questions, you should talk to your attorney immediately.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I just got a subpoena ordering me to testify as a witness in front of a grand jury. Do I have to go? Should I be concerned about anything?
- If a grand jury doesn’t indict me, how long does the prosecution have to try again? I mean, can she try to get an indictment two years from now?
- I’ve been selected to sit on a grand jury, but I can’t afford to be away from work for long periods of time. Is there any way I can get out of grand jury service?