Indictment – a formal written accusation of a felony, made by a grand jury and presented to a court for prosecution against the accused person

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(in • dite • mant)
n. (14c)
Criminal law.

1. A charge made in writing by a grand jury, based upon evidence presented to it, accusing a person of having committed a criminal act, generally a felony.  It is the function of the prosecution to bring a case before the grand jury.  If the grand jury indicts the defendant, a trial follows.  [1]

2. The formal written accusation of a crime, made by a grand jury and presented to a court for prosecution against the accused person.  See Fed. R. Crim. P. 7[2]

2. An accusation or charge of the commission of an indictable offense, made in writing by a grand jury against one or more persons upon evidence heard by the grand jury and presented by them under oath at the instance, and by the authority, of the state or the government.  State v Hamilton, 133 W Va 394, 56 SE2d 544, 12 ALRZd 573[3]

3. The formal, written accusation itself brought before the grand jury by the prosecutor.  [1]

4. The act or process of preparing or bringing forward such a formal written accusation. [2]

     Excerpt from Edward Bullingbrooke’s The Duty and Authority of Justices of the Peace and Parish Officers for Ireland (rev. ed. 1 ):

     “Indictment cometh of the French word enditer, and signifieth in law, an accusation found by an inquest of twelve or more upon their oath.  And as the appeal is ever the suit of the party, so the indictment is always the suit of the king, and, as it were, his declaration; and the party who prosecutes it, is a good witness to prove it.  And when such accusation is found by a grand jury, without any bill brought before them, and afterwards reduced to a formal indictment, it is called a presentment; and when it is found by jurors returned to inquire of that particular offence only which is indicted, it is properly called an inquisition. [4]

     Excerpt from Franklin G. Fessenden’s Improvement in Criminal Pleading (1896):

     “According to Lord Hale, an indictment is a plain, brief, and certain narrative of an offence committed by any person, and of those necessary circumstances that concur to ascertain the fact and its nature ….. The chief rule was that the indictment should be plain and certain. This was required in order that the accused should know what he was to answer, that he might not be tried again, that there might be a proper judgment, and that posterity might know what law was to be derived from the record. [5]

Related Terms:

indictor(17c) 1. Someone who causes mother to be indicted. [2] 1. A person who causes another to be indicted.

indictee1. A person against whom a grand jury has returned an indictment. [3]

Terms for Various Types of Indictments:

barebones indictment:

1. An indictment that cites only the language of the statute allegedly violated; an indictment that does not provide a factual statement. [2]

     Excerpt from Charles Alan Wright’s Federal Practice and Procedure (3d ed. 1999):

     “What has been called ‘a bare bones indictment using only statutory language’ is quite common, and entirely permissible so long as the statute sets forth fully, directly, and expressly all essential elements of the crime intended to be punished. [6]

duplicitous indictment:

1. An indictment containing two or more offenses in the same count.

2. An indictment charging the same offense in more than one count.

John Doe indictment:

1. An indictment that, instead of naming a specific person, describes the defendant by use of a physical description, a DNA profile, fingerprints, or one or more photographs.

joint indictment:

1. An indictment that charges two or more people with an offense.

sealed indictment:

1. A criminal charge submitted to the grand jury without notice to the defendant and made public only when the defendant is arraigned. — aka silent indictment.

superseding indictment:

1. A second or later indictment that includes additional charges or corrects errors in an earlier one.

twin-count indictment:

1. An indictment charging two crimes of the same class, as opposed to a more serious crime and a lesser-included offense.


Indictment de felony est contra pacem domini regis, coronam et dignitatem suam, in genere et non in individuo; quia in Anglia non est interregnum:

1. An indictment for felony reads “against the peace of our lord the king, his crown and dignity,” in general, and not against the king individually, because in England there is no interregnum.

indictment for wrongful death:

1. A form of proceeding formerly authorized by statute in some states for the recovery of damages for death by wrongful act.
     These statutes have been everywhere superseded 
by laws modeled on Lord Campbell’s Act allowing a civil action.  22 Am 12d Dth § 2.



1. To charge one with the commission of a crime by an indictment. 


1. Subject to indictment; as, a person who has committed a felony.  The proper subject of an indictment; as, an offense amounting to felony.

indictable attempt:

1. A direct ineffectual act performed intentionally toward the commission of an indictable offense. Commonwealth v Crow, 303 Pa 91, 154 A 283. Broadly, any attempted offense subject to prosecution by indictment under the law of the jurisdiction.


1. To indict.


1. Charged with the commission of a crime by the filing of an indictment or an information of weight equal to an indictment under the law of the jurisdiction. United States v Borger (CC NY) 7 F 193, 196. [3]


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[1]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition by Jack Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[2]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[3]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[4]: Edward Bullingbrooke, The Duty and Authority of Justices of the Peace and Parish Officers for Ireland 436 (rev. ed. 1 ).

[5]: Franklin G. Fessenden, Improvement in Criminal Pleading, 10 Harv. L. Rev. 98, 100 (1896).

[6]: 1 Charles Alan Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure 5 125, at 558-59 (3d ed. 1999).


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