In this article, An indictment is a formal accusation of serious crimes, usually issued by either a grand jury or prosecutor following a preliminary hearing. An indictment indicates there is sufficient evidence for bringing the case before trial; it does not, however, imply guilt or conviction of the accused person. Many indictments do not result in jail time for their defendants due to either being acquitted of charges altogether, plea bargaining to lesser charges, or receiving alternative punishment options.
How common are indictments?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2019 approximately 78,000 federal criminal cases were filed in U.S. district courts with 90% being indictments; only two percent went all the way through to trial while most cases were resolved through plea agreements or dismissals – meaning most defendants facing indictments do not face jury or judge trials but instead negotiate plea agreements or dismissals with their prosecutors in order to reduce potential jail time or avoid it entirely.
Why do some indictments lead to jail time while others don’t?
Many factors play a part in deciding the outcome of an indictment, such as its nature and severity, strength of evidence, credibility of witnesses, availability of defenses for defendants with prior criminal histories, public interest considerations, as well as discretion of prosecutors and judges. Some factors can be objectively measured while others depend on subjective considerations like preferences from parties involved.
Typically speaking, indictments involving violent, serious, or complex crimes are more likely to result in jail time than nonviolent, minor crimes; for example a person charged with murder, rape, or terrorism is more likely to face trial and an imprisonment sentence than someone accused of fraud, tax evasion, or drug possession. But this doesn’t always hold true as defendants may present strong defenses such as self-defense, insanity or entrapment that might convince either jurors or judges otherwise.
However, indictments involving nonviolent, minor crimes that are easier to resolve may more frequently result in plea bargains or alternative sentences than violent, serious and complex offenses. For instance, someone charged with shoplifting, trespassing or disorderly conduct is more likely to plead guilty or receive probation, fine or community service than those facing charges of robbery, assault or kidnapping; although this does not always hold true as some defendants may possess weak evidence, unreliable witnesses or prior convictions that make prosecution or judges demand harsher penalties than expected.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of indictments?
Indictments offer both advantages and disadvantages to defendants, victims, and society as a whole. Some of the positive benefits include:
- Prosecution defense attorneys provide protections to defendants by assuring that arrest or trial for probable cause are made, while also permitting them to challenge charges or evidence before going before a judge for trial.
- They provide defendants with an opportunity to negotiate with the prosecution and secure an advantageous result, and deter future crime by sending a strong signal that law will be upheld and that offenders will be held accountable.
Some of the disadvantages associated with indictments include:
- They subject defendants to public scrutiny and embarrassment, which may harm their reputation, employment and relationships.
- They place them under financial and emotional strain which may negatively impact their health, well-being, ability to defend themselves as well as any future prosecutions they might face.
- These cases extend the suffering of victims and their families, who must wait an indeterminate amount of time before seeing justice or closure.
- They consume an enormous amount of resources and time that may strain the criminal justice system and delay resolution of other cases.
Indictments are an integral component of our criminal justice system, yet their results do not always result in jail time for defendants. An indictment’s outcome depends on many factors, including type of crime committed, quality of evidence submitted, discretion of prosecutors and judges and many more. While indictments have both advantages and disadvantages for individuals as well as society at large, their use should always be handled with great care and fairness to achieve maximum effectiveness and avoid unintended outcomes.