indictment (ĭndĪtˈmənt) [key], in criminal law, formal written accusation naming specific persons and crimes. Persons suspected of crime may be rendered liable to trial by indictment, by presentment, or by information. An indictment is issued by a grand jury when the jury's investigation is initiated by the public prosecutor's presentment of a bill of indictment. A presentment is an accusation issued by the grand jury on its own knowledge, without any bill of indictment having been previously drawn up by the prosecutor. An information is an accusation presented directly by the prosecutor without consideration by a grand jury. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution safeguards the right to a preliminary hearing by a grand jury in major federal cases. It provides in effect that no person outside military service may be tried in a federal court for a capital "or otherwise infamous" (i.e., a felony) crime except on indictment or presentment. Fewer than half of the states similarly require grand jury action. When an indictment or presentment is approved, the foreman of the grand jury marks it "true bill." Indictments, presentments, and informations are similar to the plaintiff's complaint in a civil action (see procedure).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.