Perhaps over the past four years you have inadvertently learned more about the law than you realize. Who would have thought you’d ponder whether a president could pardon himself or understand the protections provided to the highest office in the land?
The truth is that Donald Trump faces legal jeopardy once he vacates the presidency. As president, he enjoys immunity from prosecution, but leaving office means immunity from criminal liability no longer exist. In other words, he could face public indictment that have remained sealed up to now.
You may not be the head of the Executive Branch, but it’s still important to further your knowledge of the law and understand what an indictment is and what it means when one is sealed. More importantly, once an indictment becomes unsealed, what can happen? Read on to find out.
What Is an Indictment According to Texas Law?
In the state of Texas, misdemeanor crimes are brought by complaints, but felony charges are brought by a process that involves higher scrutiny: the indictment. When an indictment is sought, a Grand Jury is given information to decide whether the accused should be charged or not. If grand jurors believe there is criminal liability, a formal accusation is filed. This is called an indictment.
The felony indictment process generally follows this path:
The Arrest of the Suspect
Once a suspect is arrested, prosecutors then face limited time constraints to seek and bring an indictment.
Grand Jury Presentation
Next, a Grand Jury is convened and the case is presented to them. A Grand Jury is composed of 12 regular citizens in the community. During the hearing, the prosecutor doesn’t have to prove the guilt of the suspect. Instead, their job is merely to prove that probable cause exists to bring a case against the accused in court.
Case Goes to Trial
If nine of the members of the Grand Jury agree, then an indictment is returned. This means that the case will go to the trial court.
Why Are Indictments Sealed?
A sealed indictment is the same as any other indictment — except for one big difference: it is not public record. Because it is not public record, a suspect may not even realize that an indictment has been returned against them, or that they are wanted by law enforcement in connection with the crimes covered in the indictment.
In many cases, sealed indictments are used to arrest a suspect fast and without notice — even if they’re cooperating with an ongoing investigation. After the suspect is arrested, the indictment is unsealed.
Your Rights If You Are Indicted For a Crime
It doesn’t matter whether an indictment against you is sealed or not — you still have protections under the law when taken before a judge. Specifically, you have the right to:
- Be represented by an attorney
- Know the evidence the government has against you for the crime you are accused of
- Submit a plea of innocence or guilt
- A fair trial with a jury of your peers
Remember, an indictment does not mean you’ve been found guilty or innocent. It simply means that a Grand Jury thought there was enough evidence in a case against you to move forward with criminal charges. It is at the trial that the burden lies with the state to prove your guilt, since you are always presumed innocent at trial until and unless the prosecution is able to show otherwise.
Understanding your rights when you’ve been indicted is crucial to making sure you get a fair trial where your voice is heard.