Josh Harper | November 11, 2021 | Criminal Defense
Under Article I Section 10 of the Texas Constitution, you cannot be charged with a felony unless the state formally indicts you. An indictment is a formal legal document, issued by a grand jury, charging you with a felony. Basically, an indictment is a fancy type of criminal complaint.
You have probably heard the term “criminal complaint” before, since this is how misdemeanors are frequently charged.
What is the Indictment Process in Plano, Texas?
The first step in defining an indictment in Plano is explaining the process step by step. When police and prosecutors believe someone committed a felony in Texas, the prosecutor goes to a judge and requests a grand jury.
The court then summons citizens to come in for jury duty. Twelve jurors will be selected for the grand jury. The prosecutor will then present evidence and witness testimony to the grand jury describing the crime that was committed and why they believe charges should be issued.
At the grand jury proceeding, the prosecution must establish probable cause that a certain individual committed a crime. If the jurors disagree that there is probable cause to indict the suspect, no charges will be issued. Probable cause is a much lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard at trial. Probable cause is simply a reasonable belief based on the circumstances.
An indictment is not a determination of guilt — that can’t occur until much later after a jury trial. Rather, it is simply a finding that evidence of a crime is sufficient for the case to proceed. A grand jury in Texas does not need to be unanimous to issue an indictment for a crime. Only nine members out of the 12 must vote to indict.
When at least nine members vote to approve the indictment and issue charges, it is called a “True Bill.” If the grand jury decides not to indict, it is called a “No Bill.”
If the grand jury approves the indictment, formal felony charges are issued. The accused party can be arrested on a warrant (or held on felony charges if already in custody).
Will I Always Know if I am Being Indicted?
No. In Texas, you will often not know if you are being indicted. This is because Texas law states that grand jury proceedings are secret. You typically won’t find out until you are arrested on felony charges.
This means that defense lawyers and the accused don’t get to participate in state grand jury proceedings. While the Federal system is different, most felony charges in Plano are issued by state prosecutors.
A criminal defense lawyer can petition the court for information regarding what happened before the grand jury if the defense needs this information.
Can I Be Indicted More Than Once in Plano?
Yes! Double jeopardy rules prevent the state from prosecuting you for a crime more than once after a trial jury has acquitted you. However, a grand jury is different from a trial jury. Because a grand jury can only issue charges, a prosecutor can seek an indictment more than once if the grand jury previously “no-billed” (declined to charge).
How Long Does the State Have to Indict You in Texas?
A statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on how long the government has to charge you with a crime. If the statute of limitations expires, the state is no longer allowed to indict you.
The policy reasoning behind this is that exculpatory evidence (evidence of innocence) may disappear over time. Therefore, it can be unjust to charge someone after a great deal of time has passed. However, for very serious crimes, there is often no statute of limitations — the state can pursue charges at any time.
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 12.01 describes the different statutes of limitations for a grand jury to indict someone for different crimes. These time limits vary greatly.
Just a few examples include:
- No time limit for murder and certain sexual assualt crimes
- Ten years for forgery, uttering, some sex crimes
- 7 years for health care fraud, money laundering
- 5 years for theft, robbery
- 3 years for many other crimes
There are many other statutes of limitations not listed here. You should work closely with a criminal defense lawyer if you have questions about a statute of limitations issue or a pending criminal charge.