Primary tabs

An indictment formally charges a person with a crime. During an indictment proceeding, a grand jury determines if there is adequate basis for bringing criminal charges against a suspected criminal actor. An indictment is one of two options a prosecutor has to formally charge a person with a criminal offense:

  1. Indictment issued by a grand jury.
  2. Criminal complaint filed directly to the court. In this case, the prosecutor does not need to get an indictment from a grand jury. 

The indictment enables the prosecution of a suspect for the offenses charged. An indictment is a constitutional guarantee that nobody can face a criminal trial without being previously notified of the alleged criminal offenses. 


Each state statute determines its indictment proceeding. Generally, the prosecutor will present evidence to a grand jury during an indictment proceeding. After the prosecutor has presented the evidence, the grand jury must decide whether there is an adequate basis for bringing criminal charges against a suspect and, therefore, issue an indictment against them. The criminal charges, evidence, witnesses, and deliberations are sealed and are not available to the public. 


Each state also establishes the content of an indictment. However, Rule 7 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides a list of minimum information that an indictment must contain and that follows for most states:

  • “Plain, concise, and definite written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged.” 
  • Suspect’s identity. Unless the suspect identity is unknown (see Rule 7 (c)(1)).
    • “For purposes of an indictment referred to in section 3282 of title 18, United States Code, for which the identity of the defendant is unknown, it shall be sufficient for the indictment to describe the defendant as an individual whose name is unknown, but who has a particular DNA profile, as that term is defined in section 3282.”
  • Citation of the statute or regulation that was allegedly violated.
  • Signature from a government attorney.

See also: Indictment of Presidents

[Last updated in March of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]