With so many stories about high-profile criminal cases dominating the news cycle, the general public suddenly heard a lot about the terms “indictment” and “arraignment.” However, what do these words mean, exactly? How do indictments and arraignments work, and does every criminal defendant have to go through them?
PBS published an article answering some of these questions. We have their answers as well as some of our own, including how an experienced Sevierville criminal defense attorney can help you if you’re facing charges of your own.
What is an indictment?
An indictment is a formal accusation of a crime issued against an individual by a grand jury. Its main aim is to establish the presence of sufficient evidence to justify a criminal trial, and to provide the accused with a clear understanding of the charges leveled against them.
The grand jury comprises a panel of citizens chosen from the community and tasked with reviewing the evidence presented by the prosecutor in a criminal case. The grand jury’s primary responsibility is to assess whether there is adequate evidence to warrant a trial and, if so, to issue an indictment.
The indictment details the specific accusations being made against the defendant and provides a comprehensive account of the purported criminal conduct. The charges can range from minor offenses like petty theft or possession to more serious crimes such as drug offenses, kidnapping, or murder.
The indictment process is supposed to serve as a crucial check against the potential misuse of prosecutorial power. It requires the government to present adequate evidence to convince a grand jury that a crime did indeed occur, and that the accused should stand trial to answer for the charges in a court of law. This system safeguards individuals from being subjected to unjust or baseless criminal allegations, and helps to preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system.
Once a defendant has been indicted, next they are typically arraigned in court, where they are officially informed of the charges against them and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The case then proceeds to trial, where the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction.
If you’re been indicted on criminal charges, it’s crucial to talk with a skilled Sevierville criminal defense attorney who can work to ensure your arraignment goes smoothly.
What is an arraignment?
An arraignment is a legal proceeding in which an individual accused of a crime (the defendant) is formally charged and required to enter a plea. The defendant appears before a judge, who reads the charges against them and asks for their plea of guilty or not guilty. The arraignment is a crucial phase in the criminal justice process, as it “kicks off” the trial phase and sets the tone for the ensuing proceedings.
The arraignment aims to inform the defendant of the charges against them and afford them the opportunity to enter a plea. It generally takes place within a few days of the defendant’s arrest (or when they turn themselves in) and is often the first time they get to view the charges against them in writing. Additionally, the defendant is informed of their Constitutional rights, including the right to counsel and the right to remain silent, during the arraignment.
The arraignment commences with the judge listing the charges against the defendant, which are set forth in a document referred to as an indictment or information, provided by the prosecutor. The indictment or information specifies the charges against the defendant and the Tennessee statute or law they are alleged to have breached. The judge then inquires of the defendant’s plea to each charge.
At this juncture, the defendant may enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. If the defendant pleads guilty, the judge may proceed straight to sentencing. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case advances to trial. If the defendant pleads no contest, they are, in essence, conceding that the prosecution possesses sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, but they are not admitting to wrongdoing. In most instances, the defendant will plead not guilty, and the case will progress to trial.
Apart from entering a plea, the arraignment may address other issues regarding the defendant’s release. This may include the establishment of bail or the imposition of restrictions on the defendant’s release, such as electronic surveillance or drug screening. The judge may also assign an attorney to the defendant if they are unable to afford one.
After the arraignment, the defendant’s counsel may utilize the opportunity to negotiate with the prosecutor and collaborate toward a plea bargain. A plea bargain is a type of settlement between the defendant and the prosecutor in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a less severe charge or to collaborate with the prosecution in exchange for a reduced sentence. Plea bargains are frequent in criminal cases and can assist both sides in avoiding the time and expense of a trial.
How a Sevierville defense attorney can help in a criminal trial
During an arraignment, the presence of an attorney can provide significant legal guidance and support for the defendant. Here are a few ways that a lawyer can be of assistance:
- Clarify the charges: A lawyer can explain the charges in detail, along with the potential consequences for each charge. This can help the defendant make an informed decision about their plea.
- Assist with the plea: If the defendant is unsure about how to plead, the lawyer can provide advice based on the evidence and the defendant’s legal rights.
- Negotiate a plea bargain: In certain circumstances, the prosecutor may be willing to negotiate a plea deal. A lawyer can advocate on behalf of the defendant to obtain the best possible outcome.
- Advocate for reduced bail: If the defendant is facing a high bail amount, a lawyer can argue for a lower amount or for the defendant to be released on their own recognizance.
- Represent the defendant at trial: If the case goes to trial, the lawyer can provide a strong defense and represent the defendant in court.
- Safeguard the defendant’s rights: The lawyer can ensure that the defendant’s Constitutional rights are upheld, such as the right to a fair trial, the right to an attorney, and the right to remain silent.
- Explain the implications of a conviction: If the defendant is found guilty, the lawyer can clarify the potential repercussions, such as imprisonment, fines, and a criminal record.
Having a seasoned and knowledgeable lawyer as an ally can be advantageous for anyone facing criminal charges. They can provide legal guidance, negotiate with the prosecutor, and represent the defendant in court. With an experienced lawyer on their side, the defendant can feel more confident and prepared to confront the charges against them.
At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, our experienced Sevierville criminal defense attorneys are here to represent you when you need us. To discuss your rights with an experienced criminal defense lawyer, call us or complete our contact form to arrange a free consultation. We represent defendants in Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the surrounding areas, including Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport.
Attorney Bryan E. Delius was born and raised in Sevier County, TN. He founded Delius & McKenzie more than 20 years ago, after receiving his JD from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He is admitted in Tennessee and in several federal court systems. Learn more about Bryan E. Delius.