4. Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury Proceedings:

     This page is continued from Judicial Proceedings >>>> Criminal Proceedings >>>> Arraignment:


     The government generally brings criminal charges in one of two ways: by a “bill of information” secured by a preliminary hearing, or via grand jury indictment.

charging instrument – any of three formal legal documents by which a person can be officially charged with a crime: an indictment, information, or presentment.

presentment – a written accusation returned by a grand jury on its own motion, without a prosecutor’s previous indictment request, which may be used by the prosecutor as the basis for a true bill or indictment.

     In the federal system, cases must be brought by indictment.  States, however, are free to use either process.  Both preliminary hearings and grand juries are used to establish the existence of probable cause.  If there is no finding of probable cause, a defendant will not be forced to stand trial.

     A preliminary hearing (also known as a preliminary examination) is an adversarial proceeding in which counsel questions witnesses and both parties makes arguments.  The judge then makes the ultimate finding of probable cause. 

probable cause – a reasonable amount of suspicions, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true.

probable cause – a reasonable amount of suspicions, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true.

preliminary hearing – any number of “Probable Cause Hearings” to determine if there’s sufficient evidence to hold trial, or if any evidence ought be suppressed due to Fourth Amendment violation. — aka preliminary examination; probable-cause hearing; bindover hearing; examining trial; felony hearing.

  • bailable offense – a criminal charge for which a defendant may be released from custody after providing proper security.

grand jury – usually 16 to 23 people who sit one month to a year in ex parte proceedings, to decide whether to issue an indictment.

  • bill of indictment – an instrument containing a criminal charge, presented to a grand jury by a prosecutor, used by the jury to determine if there’s enough evidence to formally charge the accused with a crime.  After it is found and all the blanks are filled in, it is called an “indictment.”
  • indictment – a formal written accusation of a felony, made by a grand jury and presented to a court for prosecution against the accused person.
  • true bill – an indorsement that a grand jury enters onto a bill of indictment when it indicts a criminal defendant; by writing “true bill” on the bill, the determination that a criminal charge should go before a petty jury for trial is officially indorsed by the grand jury. — aka billa vera.
  • no bill – an indorsement by a grand jury on a bill of indictment, indicating “not found” or “not a true bill”; the party is then discharged without further answer. A grand jury may instead write “not found,” “not a true bill,” or “ignoramus” to indicate the same thing.


      The grand jury, on the other hand, hears only from the prosecutor.  The grand jury may call their own witnesses and request that further investigations be performed.  The grand jury then decides whether sufficient evidence has been presented to indict the defendant.


Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is compiled in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: Justia Criminal Law Stages of a Criminal Case: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/stages-of-a-criminal-case.html


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