What is a Criminal Indictment?

Definition of a Criminal Indictment

In a criminal court, indictments are official documents that charge a defendant with a crime. An indictment includes details like the date of the offense, the defendant’s name and the specific crime that he is charged with committing. It can also include identifying information such as a birth date or social security number.

Most federal prosecutions start with an indictment. Article I, Section 10 of the Texas Constitution requires a criminal indictment to be filed before the state can formally proceed with felony charges. The indictment must also be presented to and approved by a grand jury.

How Criminal Indictments are Used

A criminal indictment must be filed for criminal charges, unless:


Misdemeanors are punishable with up to one year in jail and/or small fines. On a misdemeanor charge, the prosecution files an information instead of an indictment. An information is similar to an indictment, but it does not have to be presented to a grand jury.

The Duties of a Grand Jury

A grand jury consists of people who live in the jurisdiction where the defendant’s case is tried. This panel of citizens decides whether prosecutors has enough evidence or probable cause to continue to the next step of the criminal process. Probable cause means that it is more likely than not that a person committed the specific crime for which he was charged.

A grand jury will deliver a true bill to the court if its majority believe that:

  • The prosecutors have sufficient evidence.
  • The accused person should be officially indicted.


If the grand jury does not find probable cause, no true bill is awarded, and the prosecutors may not move forward with the lawsuit. They will have to either drop the case or gather additional testimony and present the indictment to the grand jury once again.

Contact Houston attorney Mario Madrid and his associates today at 713-877-9400 if you would like to learn more about criminal indictments.