Information About Direct Indictment in Virginia

Direct Indictment

A small percentage of felony cases in Virginia start at the Circuit Court level via direct indictment. This happens when the Commonwealth skips the preliminary hearing process in general district court and directly presents the case to a grand jury.

At the arraignment in Circuit Court, the Judge will explain all trial rights to the defendant and set a date for their trial. This is known as Term Day. Learn more information about direct indictment in Virginia.

What is a Direct Indictment?

When a person is charged with a crime in Virginia, they must first be formally indicted by the grand jury. The indictment consists of a short, plain statement of the charges and the alleged offenses. A judge or jury will then hear from witnesses and evaluate the evidence presented in the case. The defendant and their attorney are not present during this phase of the process.

Most felony cases in Virginia start at the circuit court level, but there are some exceptions to this rule. If prosecutors believe that they will not succeed in getting a preliminary hearing for the felony charges, they can file a direct indictment in the district court.

In these cases, there will still be a preliminary hearing in one of the local district courts where the judge will decide whether or not probable cause exists to show that you committed the felony and should be held for trial. An experienced criminal defense attorney like the ones at KGO can help increase your chances of having the felony charges dismissed during the preliminary hearing.

How Does a Direct Indictment Work?

Currently, when someone is arrested for a felony charge in Virginia, they are first subject to a preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing is designed to determine whether a judge has probable cause that the person committed a crime. If probable cause is found, the case is then certified to a grand jury for a second determination of probable cause. The duplication of a preliminary hearing and a grand jury has been the target of a state commission’s proposal to reduce government reform costs.

At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution has to show that “there is reasonable ground to believe that a felony was committed and that the accused is the person who committed it.” This is a much lower standard than what is required at trial. If the judge decides that there is probable cause to charge you with a felony, they will send your case to Circuit Court for indictment. You will also have a chance to cross-examine witnesses and challenge the Commonwealth’s evidence.

What Are the Benefits of a Direct Indictment?

In cases where a felony is presented to a grand jury, the prosecution has to show only probable cause that the accused committed the crime. This is a much lower standard than what is required at a preliminary hearing.

When the grand jury returns a true bill, the defendant is certified for trial and the case will move to Circuit Court. The accused will then be arraigned, bond set, counsel appointed and trial date set.

When a case is charged on a direct indictment, the names and personal identifying information of witnesses and victims and members of their families may be subject to redaction under Virginia Code Rule 3A:11. If a defendant believes that the Commonwealth’s refusal to allow discovery of certain evidence violates his or her constitutional rights, the accused can request that a court issue an order granting him or her the right to inspect and copy those documents. However, the Commonwealth’s attorney is required to cite the reasons why disclosure is prohibited.

What Are the Risks of a Direct Indictment?

Depending on the circumstances of your case, there are a variety of factors that can impact when you are indicted. A Virginia criminal defense attorney can help you determine the best course of action for your situation.

Felony cases in Virginia usually start at the district court level, either general district or juvenile and domestic relations. A district court judge will conduct what is called a preliminary hearing to determine if there is probable cause that you committed the crime for which you are being charged. During this hearing the prosecutor, or Commonwealth’s Attorney will put on evidence to establish probable cause. If the judge finds probable cause he or she will certify the case to the Grand Jury.

The Grand Jury is an assembly of citizens that meets on a monthly basis to hear evidence and argument from the police and Commonwealth’s Attorney before they issue indictments. They will also hear direct indictments which bypasses the preliminary inquiry and preliminary hearing, however it can be difficult to convince a Grand Jury that probable cause exists in this manner.

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