We’ve all heard the word “indictment” mentioned before, whether it’s news about a high-profile case or part of a TV drama. But once the word is used in regard to you or a loved one, it takes on a whole new connotation.
In this scenario, it’s common to realize you don’t have a clear understanding of what indictment in Rhode Island really means or entails.
As a RI criminal defense attorney, I have over 25 years of successful experience helping clients understand and navigate this complex process. That’s why I put together this guide and FAQ. Keep reading to understand how the indictment process works in Rhode Island, plus get answers to the questions I hear most often.
What is an Indictment and How Does It Work in Rhode Island?
An indictment is when a grand jury votes there’s probable cause to formally charge you with a serious crime. In Rhode Island, the indictment process typically works as follows:
- Evidence is presented before a grand jury. The prosecution presents its evidence to the members of the grand jury. Your defense attorney can also present evidence, and witnesses, and cross-examine the prosecutor’s witnesses.
- The jurors discuss and evaluate privately. The grand jury must decide whether the evidence demonstrates probable cause (a reasonable belief that you committed the crime or crimes in question).
- The grand jury issues its decision. If it’s agreed that the evidence against you is sufficient, the case against you moves forward. If not, the charges are dismissed.
- You’re brought before a judge for arraignment. If the grand jury votes to indict you and your case moves forward, the most common next step is an arraignment. Then your case proceeds towards trial. If found guilty, you’ll be sentenced.
What is the Role of a Grand Jury in the Rhode Island Indictment Process?
A grand jury’s role in the Rhode Island indictment process is to review the prosecution’s evidence against you and determine if there’s probable cause that you committed the crime(s) in question.
Unlike a jury in other court cases, the grand jury’s role isn’t to issue a verdict of guilty or innocent. Their purpose is simply to decide whether to indict you, which means formally accusing you of a crime or crimes.
The grand jury is made up of 13 to 23 jurors who are randomly selected, and they review the evidence in secrecy. At least 12 members have to agree on the existence of probable cause in order to indict you.
If the Grand Jury Decides to Indict: True Bill
When the grand jury decides to indict, it returns what’s called a “True Bill.” This means that 12 or more jurors agree on the existence of probable cause. At this point, the indictment against you is filed with the Rhode Island Superior Court and your case continues toward trial.
The usual next step after indictment is your arraignment. You appear before a judge for a formal reading of the charges against you. You’re able to enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest (nolo contendere).
From there, pretrial proceedings like discovery and motion hearings begin taking place. If your case isn’t dismissed or settled at any point during this time, you’ll proceed to trial.
If the Grand Jury Decides Not to Indict: No Bill
When the grand jury decides not to indict, it returns what’s called a “No Bill” or also a “No True Bill.” This means the majority of jurors agree there’s no probable cause, and the criminal prosecution process can’t move forward.
Once this document is filed, you can typically put the whole ordeal behind you. In regards to double jeopardy, the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution states that “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life and limb.”
Basically, if a grand jury returns a No Bill, you can’t be indicted again for the exact same offense with the exact same evidence.
But prosecutors can still bring new evidence or a lesser crime before a new grand jury and go through the process again. That’s why it’s so important to retain an aggressive, experienced Rhode Island criminal defense attorney throughout the entire indictment process. There’s always a chance prosecutors will keep trying to formally charge you.
If you or a loved one is facing an upcoming indictment, expert legal representation is the only way to guarantee the best possible outcome and that your rights are respected. I invite you to call 401.421.1440 today to schedule a free legal consultation.
Are All Felony Charges in Rhode Island Subject to the Indictment Process?
Yes, all felony charges in Rhode Island are subject to the indictment process.
This is due to two specific facts. First, only felony charges which are punishable by life imprisonment, or by imprisonment exceeding one year, are subject to indictment in Rhode Island. But in RI, a felony is any crime punishable with greater than one year of imprisonment.
However, that doesn’t mean that every felony charge is brought before a grand jury. Another route is called “criminal information,” which is when the prosecution files directly with the court. Then you’d be arraigned without the indictment process.
Can Misdemeanors Also Lead to Indictments?
No, misdemeanors generally can’t lead to indictments in Rhode Island. You see, Rhode Island law dictates the maximum penalties for misdemeanors as one year in jail. But indictment in Rhode Island is reserved for felonies that can be punished with imprisonment of more than one year.
So, you won’t be indicted for a misdemeanor in Rhode Island.
That said, it’s common for misdemeanors and felonies to be committed as part of the same overall crime or series of offenses. If the prosecution discovers evidence of the felony while investigating the misdemeanor, that could ultimately lead to an indictment.
What Role Does a Defense Attorney Play During the Indictment Process?
During the indictment process in Rhode Island, a skilled defense attorney’s role is to:
- Explain the process, potential consequences, and paths forward
- Represent you and aggressively advocate on your behalf before the grand jury
- Challenge any insufficient evidence or actions that infringe upon your rights during the process
- Handle negotiations to ensure the most favorable outcome for your case
- Investigate and gather evidence of their own to challenge the prosecution’s arguments
- Custom-tailor the strongest possible defense strategy based on the details of your case
All in all, having an expert Rhode Island criminal defense attorney by your side throughout the indictment process is one of the best choices you can make.
We’ve provided aggressive legal defense you can count on for over 25 years. If you or a loved one is facing a possible indictment in Rhode Island, call the Law Office of John E. MacDonald today at 401.421.1440.