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What Is a Secret Indictment?

Grand juries issue secret indictments after determining that there is enough evidence for a case to go to trial.
Secret indictments are often issued against those who may be a flight risk, such as individuals who can easily travel abroad.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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A secret indictment is an indictment that is not made public until the subject of the indictment has been arrested, notified, or released pending trial. These indictments are primarily seen in the United States, because they are issued by grand juries and most other countries do not use the grand jury in their justice system. In America, a grand jury hears the key facts of a case to decide if there is enough evidence for someone to stand trial. If they believe that a trial is warranted, they issue an indictment, a formal accusation which serves as a warning to the accused that a trial will be held.

Sometimes, it is determined that the indictment should be kept secret. This may also be known as a sealed indictment or silent indictment. In this case, the documentation surrounding the indictment is kept under seal, and no one involved may discuss the indictment outside of the grand jury hearings, or with anyone else once the hearings are over. When the seal is lifted, the contents of the indictment can be made public.

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Prosecutors may request a secret indictment if they are concerned that someone may flee if he or she becomes aware that trial proceedings are being set in motion. It is also possible to ask for one to protect witnesses and other people involved with the case. If a suspected criminal is aware that grand jury hearings are occurring, the criminal may take steps to interfere with the hearings, such as intimidating witnesses or members of the grand jury. By sealing the indictment, the prosecutor ensures that the process will be safe for everyone.

Secret indictments are perfectly legal. They do not infringe upon the rights of the accused, including the right to a trial by jury and the right to hear evidence and cross-examine witnesses. Some people criticize the process because they argue that it is abused and that the information should be on the public record, but the justifications for the process often far outweigh these concerns.

The indictment will be unsealed when the government feels that it is appropriate to do so. As long as someone remains at large, the indictment typically remains sealed because the case is considered active. People who have evaded arrest must usually surrender to law enforcement before they can determine the contents of an indictment, and it is advisable for individuals to surrender with the assistance of a lawyer.

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Discuss this Article

anon328050
Post 6

I would still like to know how long an indictment can be held over your head on an illegal search warrant? How can you be imprisoned in a state when the evidence is seized in an illegal search warrant in the state where there are no charges against you and you were entrapped by the state where you are in jail. The two states worked together to trap you. You are in jail in the state using the illegal evidence. How do I get my son out of jail? He has health problems that could kill him and has been denied his medicine.

anon327697
Post 5

I just got out of jail for a false arrest by a planned secret indictment and I must say I am going to press charges on the state.

anon178492
Post 4

A family member was just arrested on a "secret indictment" and released after court the next day on $10,000/O.R. bond. What the heck? He is charged with possession of Meth and possession of drug tools for a digital scale.

I am confused and thinking it is overkill for this particular process to be used. He is not a manufacturer of the drug, but knows many who are and "he says" he took the fall when it wasn't his stuff to begin with. Whatever his story, it was a half gram they were caught with. Still seems like overkill to me.

Fiorite
Post 3

@ Cougars- The effectiveness of a grand jury as a check to the judicial system is debatable. Take for example the Madoff fraud case. Madoff had been embezzling money from investors for almost thirty years, right under the nose of the government and regulators. The grand jury that passed an indictment on Madoff failed to see any criminal negligence or corruption connection between the scandal and federal regulators. How something so obvious can stay under the radar so long is amazing. I also think it is insane how banks like JP Morgan Chase benefited by almost a half billion dollars through the Madoff scandal, yet hold no responsibility for the blame.

cougars
Post 2

@ Comparables- A grand jury indictment can be handed down in any level of the court system, but Grand juries are only required at the federal level. A federal grand jury is required to issue indictments on capital crimes and crime of infamy. It is a part of the judicial system of checks and balances because the grand jury is independent from the state and country's prosecution arm. It is designed to ensure that citizens are not unjustly tried in the courts. In some cases, the grand jury can actually "run away" from the prosecution and actually expose government and judicial corruption. This has not happened recently, but it has happened during prominent organized crime cases.

Comparables
Post 1

I do not really understand how grand jury indictments work. Is a grand jury indictment used in federal cases, state cases, or both? I looked up the indictment definition in the dictionary, but it was of little help. I am just curious to know what is involved in handing down an indictment. Does anyone else know?

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