When someone is caught breaking the law, the consequences are usually instant and out in the open: they’re given a warning, issued a speeding ticket, or, in extreme cases, charged and arrested.
However, law enforcement doesn’t take a direct approach to all violations. Sometimes, cases get built quietly, and offenders are secretly indicted many months after they’ve committed a crime. This begs the question: how do you know if you have a secret indictment? Continue reading to find out.
Check To See If You Have a Secret Indictment:
You can find out whether you have a secret indictment using one of the methods below:
- Check police records
- Check county, state, and federal records
- Do an online search
- Hire a criminal attorney
We’ll go into more detail on each one later in the article.
What Is a Secret Indictment?
To answer this question, we must first understand what an indictment is. An indictment is a document that serves two purposes: first, it formally accuses someone of a crime; and second, it notifies them that they’ll have to stand trial for the said crime.
So, a secret indictment is an indictment that isn’t publicized until the person indicted has been taken into custody, given notice of the indictment, or released on bail pending trial. In contrast, a regular indictment is made public from the get-go.
Secret indictments may be sealed or silent. When an indictment is sealed, the documents involved in the case are kept under seal. Meanwhile, silence indicates that no one involved in the grand jury hearings can discuss the details of the case and indictment outside the meetings or with anyone else.
However, once the seal has been lifted from a sealed indictment, it’ll lose its “secret” status, and its contents will be publicized.
Is It Common?
No. Secret indictments are peculiar to the US justice system. The main factor that makes a secret indictment so US-centric is the involvement of a grand jury, which other countries don’t use.
When requesting an indictment to be made secret, a prosecutor invites a grand jury to hear the case’s facts. The jury then decides whether the evidence is sufficient for the accused to be tried.
Is It Legal?
A secret indictment is 100% legal and doesn’t infringe on the accused person’s legal rights (right to hear evidence, for example). While some argue all information in the indictment should be made public, the below reasons for keeping them secret outweigh such arguments.
Why It’s Kept a Secret
There are several reasons why a prosecutor may request a secret indictment. Some include:
The prosecutor may be concerned that the person involved will flee the country if they learn that the wheels of the justice system are beginning to turn.
If the accused person gets wind of the case being built against them, they can approach witnesses and turn them hostile through bribery or intimidation. In some cases, the accused could harm the witness to keep them from testifying in court.
Intimidation of the Jury
Some accused people may go after jury members to influence the trial’s outcome. Once again, they may use a broad range of tactics (from intimidation to outright murder) to get themselves off the hook.
Secret Indictments Aren’t Made Lightly
Notably, the prosecutor needs evidence that provides grounds for making an indictment secret. Usually, such evidence may take the form of records pertaining to prior arrests, i.e., whether the accused person has a rap sheet.
For example, it’s easy to determine whether an accused person is a flight risk if they jumped bail in a prior arrest. Also, if the accused has previously been convicted of violent crimes, they could pose a danger to witnesses.
How to Find Out if You Have a Secret Indictment
You can investigate whether you’ve been secretly indicted in one of the following ways:
You can start by searching arrest records and local police reports to confirm or dispel your suspicions if you suspect you’ve been secretly indicted. In most states, you can perform background searches by name and dig up information related to arrests and other filings made by the police.
Note that we aren’t recommending you turn up at your local police station (unless you’d like to turn yourself in). Instead, you can visit its website to access its database of reports.
Usually, reading such reports will give you an idea of what information the police have gathered and whether the crime is considered a felony or misdemeanor.
When searching police department databases, you can deduce whether a charge has been filed against you. If you find one, it’s possible to estimate whether you’ve been secretly indicted by researching the gravity of your accused offense. In other words, you’re more likely to be secretly indicted for serious offenses like illicit drug distribution or trafficking.
County and Federal Court Records
Your next option for checking whether you’ve been secretly indicted is to get an attorney to look through the county and federal court records. These courts maintain records of indictments listed over several months, so you can search for your name or any charges attached to it.
Moreover, if you find your name, they can get the corresponding file to glean more information about the possibility of an indictment.
As a last resort, you can search online. The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) website is a good place to start when performing an online search for a secret indictment. This website has a database of records for all US districts. Moreover, its records are open to the public.
You’ll have to register as a new member to arrange for printed copies of files retrieved from the database. You can even get a friend to register in your place to remain anonymous. Additionally, you can try searching the National Center for State Courts website to access state court records.
Consult a Criminal Attorney
If all else fails, you can consult a criminal attorney. A criminal attorney can conduct physical searches at the courts using suspects and party names. If your name is associated with a case, but the details are scant, it could be a sign a judge has ordered the indictment to be sealed.
I’m Being Secretly Indicted. Now What?
First of all, don’t panic. You could make things worse for yourself if you try to flee and get caught or approach potential witnesses (even with the purest intentions).
It’s worth mentioning that an indictment doesn’t mean you’ll be found guilty of the crime you’re accused of committing. For that to happen, you’ll have to be tried first and your guilt established without a reasonable doubt. If that offers cold comfort, we’ll discuss some factors that might alleviate your fears below:
Hire an Attorney
If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to get some excellent legal representation. You might be able to consult with your attorney on how to navigate the next steps, manage reputational damage, etc.
Moreover, depending on the offense, your attorney might be able to reach out to the prosecutor to strike a plea deal that might result in a lighter sentence in exchange for an admission of guilt or cooperation with the authorities. In some cases, an attorney might be able to get the prosecution to drop the charges or get the case dismissed when it gets to trial.
Before you worry about being jailed once your indictment has been made public, you should know that won’t happen until you lose a bond hearing. At bond hearings, the prosecution and defense (your legal team) argue about whether it’s okay to release an accused person on bond and also the amount to set the bond.
The judge decides whether to grant a release on bond, and they’ll make this decision by assessing whether you’re a potential risk to society if released. Additionally, the judge might consider your financial situation, as an abundance of resources may make you more likely to flee the country.
If this is your first offense, or your character is such that you don’t pose a flight risk or threat to society, there shouldn’t be any reason why the judge will refuse your bond release application.
To recap, a secret indictment is an indictment made by a grand jury after they’ve determined there’s enough evidence to try an accused person. They’re called secret indictments because no one but the people involved in the jury deliberations is allowed to know they exist until they’re unsealed and made public.
Usually, prosecutors request secret indictments if they fear the accused person is a flight risk or may interfere with court proceedings by threatening or bribing witnesses and jury members. And the best way to find out if you have a secret indictment is by checking police reports, court records, and online databases.