A federal prosecutor may charge someone by filing a criminal complaint or seeking a grand jury indictment. If the prosecutor seeks the later, the prosecutor must present their case before members of the grand jury. A prosecutor is not required to present their entire case before the grand jury, but only what is necessary to satisfy the probable cause standard. If the prosecutor is not able to satisfy this standard, the grand jury will not charge the suspect.
A federal indictment is an official felony charge sheet issued by the grand jury. It identifies the charges the grand jury believes to be appropriate based on the evidence and testimony brought before them. A suspect officially becomes a party defendant once an indictment is issued. A defendant has the right to receive a copy of the indictment at their initial appearance before the magistrate.
A prosecutor may move to seal a grand jury indictment if making the charges public could compromise their case. Moreover, if defendants, suspects, or co-conspirators are alerted that charges have been brought against them, then they are liable to flee, destroy evidence, or tamper with witnesses.
An indictment is a public document unless it has been sealed. Often times, a sealed indictment is unsealed the day the government arrests a defendant and brings them to court. However, the government may continue to have the indictment sealed, despite bringing the defendant to court, if the government believes the defendant could help them as a cooperating witness against other suspects.
A grand jury indictment is able to be superseded by the prosecutor at virtually any stage of the case. It is not common for the prosecutor to inform a defendant, or their counsel, of their intention of seeking additional charges. If the prosecutor seeks to add more charges to the indictment, the prosecutor must present evidence or testimony to support the proposed amendment to the existing indictment. If additional charges are added, then the charge sheet becomes a superseding indictment. Consequently, a defendant must then be re-arraigned before the magistrate judge.
If you have been arrested or charged with a federal crime, then contact us to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Federal criminal defense attorney. Let us help you alleviate the stress and anxiety of having to navigate through an unfamiliar system.