Federal Indictment

Federal Indictment / Charges

After the federal prosecutor(AUSA, aka Assistant United States Attorney) studies the information from federal investigators and the information they gather from talking with the individuals involved, the federal prosecutor decides whether to present the case to the grand jury for an indictment. When a person is indicted, they are given formal notice that it is believed that they committed a crime. The indictment contains the basic information that informs the person of the charges against them.

For potential felony charges, a federal prosecutor will present the evidence to an impartial group of citizens called a grand jury. Witnesses may be called to testify, evidence is shown to the grand jury, and an outline of the case is presented to the grand jury members for an indictment. The grand jury listens to the federal prosecutor and witnesses, and then votes in secret on whether they believe that enough evidence exists to charge / indict the person with a crime. A grand jury may decide not to charge an individual based upon the evidence, no indictment would come from the grand jury. All proceedings and statements made before a grand jury are sealed, meaning that only the people in the room have knowledge about who said what about whom. The grand jury is a constitutional requirement for certain types of crimes (meaning it is written in the United States Constitution) so that a group of citizens who do not know the defendant can make an unbiased decision about the evidence before voting to charge an individual with a crime.

Grand juries are made up of approximately 16-23 members. Their proceedings can only be attended by specific persons. For example, witnesses who are compelled to testify before the grand jury are not allowed to have an attorney present. At least twelve jurors must concur in order to issue an indictment.

State prosecutors, such as the Los Angeles District Attorney, are not required to charge by use of a grand jury. Sometimes the Los Angeles District Attorney will indict, but the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to only require the federal government to use grand juries for all felony crimes (federal misdemeanor charges do not have to come from the federal grand jury).

After the defendant is charged / indicted, they can either hire an attorney or if they are indigent they may choose to be represented by an attorney provided by the Government — a public defender — at no or minimal charge. The defendant’s attorney is referred to as the defense attorney. The defendant's attorney assists the defendant in understanding the law and the facts of the case, and represents the defendant just as the federal prosecutor will represent the federal Government.


The location where the trial is held is called the venue, and federal cases are tried in a United States District Court. There are 94 district courts in the United States including the District of Columbia and territories. Many states, such as California, have more than one district court (in Los Angeles it is referred to as the Central District of California, San Diego is referred to as the Southern District of California, San Francisco is known as the Northern District of California and Sacramento is known as the Eastern District of California). Venue will depend on where the crime was committed. Within each district, there may be several courthouse locations, for example in the Central District of California, courthouses are located in Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Riverside. The main courthouse in the Central District of California is located in Los Angeles.


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