The Grand Jury Indictment Process
"An indictment is an accusation in writing, presented by the grand jury to a competent court, charging a person with a public offense." California Penal Code section 889.
Before a felony charge goes to trial, the law has a procedure to protect the defendant and the courts from having to deal with charges that are entirely without merit. Two different procedures meet this purpose. One is a preliminary hearing before a judge. The other is indictment by the Grand Jury. The two proceedings have similarities and differences. Both the indictment process and the preliminary hearing process involve the evaluation of evidence, either by the Grand Jury or by a judge. In the preliminary hearing process, however, the defendant is a party to the proceedings and, hence, has the right to be present, with an attorney, to cross-examine witnesses and to offer evidence. A defendant does not have those rights in a Grand Jury indictment proceeding because the defendant is not a party to the proceedings.
In an indictment proceeding, "the Grand Jury shall find an indictment when all the evidence before it, taken together, if unexplained or uncontradicted, would, in its judgment, warrant a conviction by a trial jury, ..." California Penal Code section 939.8. A minimum of 12 Grand Jurors must vote for an indictment.
Historically, there are a number of reasons why a district attorney would proceed with an indictment rather than a preliminary hearing. These include, but are not limited to:
· Saves time when there are multiple defendants, complex fraud cases, or ongoing investigations involving narcotics cases.