When the Federal government targets an individual for prosecution under the United States Code, it must submit its case and evidence to a grand jury, which must agree that there is enough evidence to justify a trial. If so, the grand jury issues a formal charging document, better known as an indictment. Except in first-degree murder or other specialized cases, state prosecutors in Florida and elsewhere generally bring charges by filing an information instead of seeking an indictment.
At trial, neither an indictment nor information is considered to be evidence. Just as a boarding pass gets you onto your plane, the indictment or information gets the government into the courtroom. But once everyone is seated and the journey begins, neither document has any further value.
For the accused, the filing of an indictment or information is just the beginning of a long and arduous journey that can lead to substantial prison time, astronomical fines, and other adverse consequences if he or she is convicted. This is where a pre-indictment investigation may make all the difference. Pre-indictment investigations are one of the best tools that a potential target can utilize. For this reason, retaining a qualified criminal defense attorney experienced in this area is the wisest choice to minimize one’s exposure to prosecution and punishment.
While the grand jury reviews the matter, the defense attorney can interview witnesses, review documents and other possible evidence, and discover potential weaknesses in the government’s case. He or she may then meet with the prosecutor, or appear before the grand jury on rare occasions, to discourage the filing of any charges at all, or to ensure that any charges filed are not excessive or unsupported by the facts or the law.
In the meantime, the client will be protected from unwanted contacts by law enforcement, the government, or, if necessary, the press. The attorney will take responsibility for deciding what contacts will be permitted, and under what terms and conditions, always with the client’s best interests in mind. If formal charges are filed, the attorney can make arrangements for bail, ensure that the client’s arrest and booking take place outside the glare of the media, and enter a waiver of formal arraignment, the court hearing at which the charges are announced and a “not-guilty” plea is entered. This means the client will not be required to take time off from work or other commitments to appear before the judge for a hearing that is usually handled in five minutes or less.
Retaining a knowledgeable attorney experienced in this area is vital to being prepared for such a life-altering event. Even if charges are not handed down, the time spent under investigation, worrying over the possibility of an indictment, can be too heavy a burden to bear. Working with a skilled attorney can help in constructing a successful defense, while alleviating too heavy an emotional burden to bear. The government has skilled people in its corner; shouldn’t you?