A criminal indictment is not a conviction or proof of guilt. Rather, it simply means that a grand jury (which is different than a trial jury) was convened to review the prosecution's evidence and determined that there was evidence sufficient only to proceed with a criminal case and ultimately place the determination of guilt in the hands of a trial jury, in the event that the case is not resolved by way of plea, dismissal or other motion. It's important to note that grand jury's are often criticized for what is perceived as simply "rubber stamping" the government's case. While this may not actually be the case, the sentiment stems from the absence of criminal defense attorney participation in the process. Grand jury proceedings are secret ones and include the unusual measure of sealing their proceedings from the public. In other words, it's a one-sided presentation and there is no opportunity for defense counsel to question the prosecution's version of the evidence.
A Criminal complaint, by contrast to an indictment, is merely an accusatory instrument, and is typically filed prior to a grand jury proceeding. An exception exists in the case of so-called X-indictments where the prosecution views the defendant(s) as an extreme flight risk or danger to the community. In these cases a grand jury may be convened prior to filing any criminal case.
Federal Criminal Cases
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