How do you know if you have a secret indictment filed against you? The answer to this question is a difficult one, but there is something that can be done right away to help figure it out. First, you must realize that there are a number of reasons that an indictment may be sealed or secret. This makes it purposefully difficult for an individual to find out if they have one or not. With that said, there are very concrete steps that can be taken by anyone to at least learn some important information about a potential secret indictment. Simply put, if you believe you may have a secret indictment against you, above all else, educate yourself and follow the steps below first. As they say, knowledge is power–and you need all the information you can get when it comes to something this serious.
How to Tell If You Have a Secret Indictment
Although uncommon, secret or sealed indictments do happen in the United States and it can be helpful to know how to find out if there are pending charges against someone that may lead to an inevitable recent arrest. The reason for an indictment being sealed varies from case to case, but it is usually done if there is a fear that the person being indicted may flee when they find out that they are supposed to stand trial. It is also used to protect witnesses or other people related to the case. It’s important to remember that an indictment of any kind, secret or not, does not mean the person named in the indictment is guilty of a crime, only that there is sufficient evidence to believe that they were involved in a crime. In high profile cases, such as those involving potential homicides, a secret indictment may be made to prevent the person accused of fleeing to another jurisdiction or even a foreign county. The good news is that, in general, there must be substantial evidence that fleeing or witness retaliation are possible in the case in order for a Grand Jury to issue a secret indictment. This evidence often comes from past arrests or convictions in which the accused tried to flee in the past or demonstrated behaviors that pose a risk to the public if a normal indictment is made. So, how do you know if you have a secret indictment? The short answer is that it’s not really possible to know for sure, but there are a few things you can do immediately. Sealed indictments are taken very seriously and are only known and allowed to be discussed by the Grand Jury that issued the indictment. However, there are a number of resources which can be utilized to learn some information around criminal proceedings to learn if a sealed indictment is a possibility for a certain case.
Step 1. Search Local Arrest Records and Police Reports
The first step for individuals who believe a secret indictment has been filed against them is to search local arrest records and police reports for any useful information. Most jurisdictions will offer some sort of name-based background search to make this relatively simple and it can supply the individual with valuable information, such as police reports and any arrests that may have been made relating to those reports. Regarding what specific information to look out for when combing through police reports, it will vary based on the situation or potential situation. Typically, individuals trying to find out if a secret indictment has been issued, likely have a good idea of the event that prompted the police to believe a crime took place. For example if the potential secret indictment was related to a domestic dispute, then searching for police records about the domestic dispute may reveal information that police have gathered, which will point to a felony taking place in the eyes of the law.
How to Search Local Arrest Records and Police Reports
Searching local records and police reports will vary based on the jurisdiction. The first place to check is through the local police department website. A simple google search such as, “[City] Police Department records” should turn up useful information as to how and where the necessary records are kept and how they can be accessed. From there it’s usually as simple as supplying as much information as possible to narrow down the search.
Police Record Search Example
To access police reports that may be connected to a sealed indictment, the following steps can be used for most all local and state law enforcement agencies. Step 1: Access the Police Department Website Using the official police department website is usually the where information on police reports can be found, as is the case for the Nashville Police Department. Looking for the following phrases on the website should narrow down the search:
- Freedom of information Act request
- Records Department
- Request Records
- Administrative Services
Step 2: Access the Police Records Section For the Nashville police department, the information can be found under the Administrative Services menu, then found under the Central Records Division link within the menu. Step 3: Complete the Request Each police department will have different rules and policies due to varying local laws about police records, but for most the process is as simple as calling or emailing using the information provided, and giving the necessary information. For the Nashville Police Department, the following options are available to request information.
- Download and complete an Open Records Request Form
- Request Records in person at the police department.
- Request records by email via [email protected] Or [email protected]
- Request records by mail.
Step 2. Check Local and State Court Records
Another option for answering the question of “how do you know if you have a secret indictment?” is to check local and state court records. Although much of the information in local and state court records will overlap with some of the police records that may have already been searched, they can still offer useful information by searching the names of individuals involved with the event. The process is similar to searching police records but simply involves going through the local court system to make the request.
State and Local Court Search Example
Step 1: Access the Local Court Website Just like with police records, a simple google search for the local criminal court will get individuals pointed in the right direction for what records are kept and open to the public. In Davidson county this is done through the Criminal Court Clerk of Davidson County website. Step 2: Locate the Records Records are often kept online in a searchable database, often under the terms below:
- Court Records
- Records Division
- Case Search
- Case information
In the case of Davidson county, it can be accessed through the search case information link. Step 3: Complete the Search From here it is as simple as following the on-screen prompts for each individual record keeping system. In the case of Davidson County, the public case search only requires a name, or case number to immediately complete the search.
Search Sheriff’s Department Records
Local sheriff’s departments also have records that can be accessed by the public, however the court system tends to have much if not all the same information and will generally be easier to request a search. If individuals still wish to search sheriff’s office records, particularly for arrests, the steps are the same as for local police records and court clerks. Step 1: Access the Sheriff’s Department Website and Locate Records Information For the Davidson County Sheriff, the records section can be found by accessing the “Inmate Records Requests,” link under the “services,” tab on the website’s homepage. Step 2: Follow Specific Instructions to Make a Records Request Davidson County Sheriff’s Department does not have an online records system. Instead a request must be made which will be completed by the police department. Requests can be made in two ways:
- Filling out an Online Record Request form (Provided on the page)
- Call the offender information phone number and make a request (615-862-8123)
Step 3. Perform a Google Search
Many people forget that the internet offers many useful features for how to find out if you have a sealed indictment. Although it’s not possible to find the sealed enditment itself, users can search for news articles and public information about a particular incident. For example, if an incident that may lead to a sealed indictment occurred on a certain date and in a certain town or jurisdiction, users can perform a google search of those terms, to see what comes up in the search results. Perhaps there will be a news story about the incident, which will include names and charges that have already been filed in the case. Users can then take that information and use it to search the state and local law enforcement and courts to glean more info about a secret indictment.
Step 4. Consult a Criminal Lawyer
After performing all the other possible checks listed above there may still be the simple question of “how do you know if you have a secret indictment?” Even after searching police and court records, only so much information can be discerned and the question of a secret indictment may remain. Unfortunately there is very little the individual can do at this point to find more information. In this case, when all other options have been exhausted the only reasonable plan of action is to contact a criminal lawyer. Criminal Lawyers will have access to more sensitive information that is not available to the general public, or at the very least can learn more information than the individual. Not only will they have a better chance of answering the question of whether or not a secret indictment has been issued, they can also advise the individual on how to proceed while they try to figure out the answer and also explain how long the police have to charge you with a crime. Criminal defense attorneys should be easy to find. Simply get in contact with one that comes highly recommended and deliver any information as to why a secret indictment may have been issued as well as basic personal information so that they can begin their search.
What is a Secret Indictment (aka Sealed Indictment)?
A secret or sealed indictment is an indictment that the grand jury has decided not to make public knowledge. This is usually done if the grand jury has reason to believe that making this information public poses some kind of risk. The risk can be of the individual fleeing to avoid arrest or to retaliate against someone involved in the event that led to the indictment.
What is a Grand Jury Indictment?
A grand jury indictment is when a grand jury decides that someone should be charged with a crime. The grand jury is presented with evidence by the prosecutor and the jury decides if the evidence is sufficient to believe that a crime may have taken place. If they believe the evidence is sufficient and that a crime may have taken place they will decide to charge a suspect with a crime. Once charged that person is now “indicted,” by a grand jury.
Is the Federal Grand Jury a Secret?
The federal grand jury has always been a secret. The secret of a grand jury is essential to the purpose of a grand jury as it allows the jurors to be free of outside influence which could otherwise impact their decisions. Just as with jurors in a criminal trial, creating a system that is free from bias is extremely important to the United States justice system.
How Do You Find Out if You Have A Sealed Indictment?
There is no easy way to find out if someone has a sealed indictment. There are a number of ways to check information around the event to get a better idea if a sealed indictment was issued, but this will only give evidence to a sealed indictment and not a firm answer. The best thing to do if an individual believes they may have a sealed indictment is to contact a criminal defense lawyer and explain the situation. Because usually the first indication of it is an arrest. So, how do you know if you have a secret indictment? Unfortunately there is no easy answer and in most cases individuals have almost no way of knowing. There are a number of steps that can be taken to gather valuable information, but the best thing to do is contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Knowing how to check if you have an indictment is a very important skill that allows individuals to quickly get the legal help they may need. This is especially true when looking for indictments by searching official records and court resources.
Being indicted for a criminal offense is scary no matter the circumstances. But it can be even more bewildering if the indictment is filed without the person’s knowledge, even in cases that aren’t protected under a sealed or secret indictment process.
Understanding the legal process for indictments and how to check if you have an indictment can make a huge difference, because it makes the defense preparation much easier.
This guide explains exactly how to find out if charges have been filed against you, and how to perform an official indictment search.
How to Check if You Have an Indictment (Official Indictment Search Process)
Before figuring out how to check if you have an indictment, individuals should learn what exactly is an indictment and what is the difference between an indictment and being charged with a crime?
Essentially, an indictment is a formal accusation that an individual committed a crime. Although a charge is also a formal accusation that an individual committed a crime, the difference lies in who files the accusation.
Often when a crime is committed there will be irrefutable evidence gathered by police at the scene, and often police take that person into custody. Since the police report indicates that a law enforcement officer witnessed the crime, little else needs to be done to make the formal accusation of charges using the police arrest record.
Indictments are a little bit trickier and thus less common. Rather than a prosecutor filing criminal charges against an individual suspect, a grand jury decides if there is sufficient evidence to lead to the conclusion that a crime likely took place.
Essentially, a grand jury (different from the jury deciding the outcome of a trial) decides to charge the individual with a crime, rather than the prosecutor.
How to Check for Indictments (County and Federal Online Searches)
There is more than one way to know how to check if you have an indictment, especially depending on the level of the charge.
For example, some crimes are charged at the local level, while others are handled by federal jurisdiction (in that case it’s important to know how to find out if someone has a felony indictment).
Individuals will need to check court records at various levels to find indictments.
Indictments, like pending charges, criminal convictions, and arrests without conviction, are considered public information. This means that Freedom of Information Act laws allow anyone to view indictment information at any time, with a few exceptions.
It is worth noting that in some cases checking for indictments can reveal certain information, such as your location. It is always a good idea to consult a lawyer if you have reason to believe that you may have been indicted. A criminal attorney will be able to find out more information at no risk to the individual.
How to Search Indictments in County Court Records
The first place to check for indictments is through county court case records. Just be sure to search in the county where the crime in question took place, because only that county’s courthouse will have the indictment information.
The process for checking county court records ranges widely from county to county, but the following steps can be applied universally. To conduct the search:
Step 1. Google the name of the county where the indictment may be filed with the words “County Court Clerk.”
Step 2. Sort search results to identify the official county clerk of courts. (usually a .gov URL address).
Step 3. Visit the court site and search for tools like “case lookup,” or “public records.”
Many counties have these tools prominently situated on their websites for easy access, and the results will display information about making public records request, which include how to check if you have an indictment.
For counties that do not have a searchable online database for public records, individuals will likely need to contact the county court clerk directly. The court contact information should also be available on the website.
How to Search Federal Court Records for Indictments
In many jurisdictions, it is far more common to indict individuals that are believed to have committed a federal crime. Several states even require that federal crime be indicted, rather than having the charges brought by a prosecutor.
Resources such as the Public Access to Electronic Court Records system (PACER) allow individuals to search for charges and indictments that have been filed all over the county, rather than having to search through courthouse by the courthouse to find the same information.
Related Reading: How to Lookup Charges on Someone Fast
Simply log into the PACER system by creating an account, and search for cases that contain the names of potential people involved in the indictment. The steps are outlined below:
Access the PACER website
The first step is to access the PACER website. The website has tons of useful information regarding federal courts. On the website’s homepage, simply select “search for case” to proceed to the next step.
Create an Account
In order to search for cases on PACER, individuals must create an account. The registration process will require some personal information as well as a payment option to pay the fee associated with each search.
In some cases, it may be a good idea to have a friend or family member create the account and perform the search as it may give away valuable information. In any case, consulting with an attorney before performing a search is always advised.
Search by National Index
Once the account has been created, select the “Search by National Index” option. This will allow users to search for court documents from every federal court in the country.
Perform the search using the name of the individual for the best results. Results should be available immediately. This is a great way to check for charges against you online.
How Do You Know if You Have An Indictment Against You?
Many people who have been indicted will know (or suspect) that legal actions have occurred since a law enforcement investigation usually happens beforehand.
However, it can be helpful to understand the felony indictment process first, and then learn how to know if you have been indicted.
Felony Indictment Process
Understanding the felony indictment process will help individuals get a better idea of if they have been or are about to be indicted by a grand jury.
Keep in mind there is no legal requirement that a prosecutor notifies an individual that a grand jury will be deliberating on whether or not to indict them, so most individuals will not know about an indictment until it has been made official.
The process for a federal indictment is similar to the process for filing charges for any crime.
A Crime is Supposedly Committed
All federal indictments will begin with a federal crime being committed. Usually, this will be a crime that was discovered later, rather than an individual being caught committing the crime by law enforcement.
A Crime is Reported & Evidence is Gathered
This will be the first time that the individual that will eventually be incited will have some knowledge of what is going on. Law enforcement will begin to investigate the crime by gathering evidence and speaking with the parties that are supposedly involved.
Although this can be local police, in the case of federal crimes it will likely be a federal agency such as the FBI or IRS that will be in charge of the investigation with the help of local law enforcement.
This is also the stage in the process where legal representation starts to play a role. Individuals who are being questioned about a crime by federal law enforcement should contact a lawyer immediately.
Prosecutor Reviews Evidence
Once sufficient evidence has been gathered, such as witness statements, police reports, or physical evidence, the evidence will be presented to a prosecutor. Normally, a prosecutor will decide if there is enough evidence to charge the individual with a crime.
However, in the case of many federal crimes and due to some state laws, a prosecutor will often be required to call a grand jury to make the decision.
Grand Jury Deliberates
With the evidence in the hands of the prosecutor, a grand jury will be called. In the case of a federal grand jury, this will be 23 individuals. The jury will be presented with evidence from the prosecutor on the facts of the case.
This can include an overview of events, physical evidence, witness testimony, etc. The evidence is presented in a way that is similar to what people expect from a criminal trial. However when all the evidence has been presented the jury will instead decide whether or not to accuse an individual of a crime, rather than to convict.
An Indictment is Filed
Should there be enough evidence to convince a jury that a crime may have been committed, the prosecutor will file an indictment. At this point, filing an indictment is the same as filing charges. The criminal trial will then proceed as it normally would, often with an arrest warrant being issued for the individual. After that, the case can move to having the charges dismissed or dropped, depending on a number of factors.
How to Find Out if You Have a Federal Indictment
The process for finding out if you have a federal indictment is the same as a local indictment. Using the above process to search for indictment records at a federal level should reveal all applicable information. Detailed steps to use the PACER is covered further down.
What’s a Federal Grand Jury
A federal grand jury is a jury that is called by a prosecutor to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to accuse an individual of a federal crime. In the case of a federal grand jury, 23 citizens will be selected to serve on the jury. The selection process is similar to that of a local criminal case with jurors being summoned from the jurisdiction of where the case is being held.
The selection process is also similar with jurors being questioned to determine whether or not they would be fair and impartial jurors. However grand jurors will be questioned by the chief judge of the case, who will be working with the prosecutors. In a normal criminal case, attorneys from both sides will be a part of the jury selection process.
What Are Common Federal Criminal Cases?
There are plenty of different federal crimes that can lead to an individual being indicted by a federal grand jury. It can be a little bit confusing what constitutes a federal crime compared to a local crime, however, there are several federal crimes that make up the vast majority of indictments.
Crimes involving illegally immigrating into the United States are by far the most common federal crime. This crime is considered federal as it involves crossing international borders, leaving the law enforcement aspect up to a federal agency, rather than a state one. Even if a state or local agency arrests an individual that is in the United States illegally, the individual will likely be handed off to a federal agency such as ICE for immigration-related charges.
Drug crimes are another common federal charge (not simply failing a drug test). Oftentimes drug charges involve crimes such as trafficking which involves crossing state lines. Crimes that involve the crossing of state or international borders usually mean a federal agency will be in charge of the case. This also applies to minor drug offenses, so long as the crime involved crossing state lines.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) frequently makes arrests involving firearms such as illegal modifications, illegal firearms sales, and transporting firearms across state lines.
Fraud & White Collar Crimes
Fraud, embezzlement, and certain kinds of theft are also commonly charged by federal agencies. With so much crime occurring over the internet or involving businesses that operate in multiple states or countries, federal agencies are generally tasked with the criminal proceedings for these types of cases.
Stealing from corporations, defrauding investors, and embezzlement are all common federal crimes.
In short, any crime that involves multiple states will likely get the attention of a federal agency which may eventually lead to a federal indictment. Local crimes like theft, homicide, and assault are usually investigated by local law enforcement.
Federal Indictment Lookup Process
Looking up possible federal indictments is far easier than it has been in the past thanks to the PACER system that is maintained by the U.S. Court System. Since the majority of indictments will be public information the indictment itself can be found by looking at court records.
Detailed steps are outlined above.
How to Find Out if You Have a Sealed Indictment (How Do You Get a Secret Indictment?)
Many individuals trying to figure out how to check if you have an indictment may have heard of secret or sealed indictments and will be wondering if they have one of these as well.
Secret indictments are fairly rare but they do happen from time to time. Secret indictments are when a prosecutor chooses not to make an indictment public knowledge. Due to the freedom of information act, this requires extra-legal proceedings in order to prove that indicting someone in secret is a necessary step for one reason or another.
Unfortunately, a secret indictment is exactly that, individuals generally will have no way of knowing if they have a secret indictment or not. It is still worth the effort to perform the above searches for evidence of an indictment.
By far the best plan of action is to contact a criminal defense attorney. An attorney will have a better understanding of the process and be able to advise individuals on what needs to be done next.
The Difference Between Indictment vs Charge
The difference between indictments and charges is only slight and quite simple. Charges are filed by a prosecutor when it is clear that a crime has taken place, these charges accuse an individual of a crime based on evidence.
An indictment is filed by a prosecutor after a grand jury makes the decision to accuse someone of a crime. Evidence will be presented to the jury who will deliberate and make the decision whether to accuse someone. Although the prosecutor still files the indictment, the decision is made by the grand jury.
Can Charges Be Dropped After an Indictment?
Charges can be dropped after an indictment? Although not a regular occurrence it is far from unheard of for charges to be dropped after an indictment.
Something as simple as new evidence being discovered that absolves the individual of the alleged crime or shines new light on the case makes it less clear that the individual may have committed the crime. In some cases, even mistaken identity can cause changes to be dropped.
Keep in mind that in many cases a prosecutor may drop charges only to file them again later, once more or better evidence has been collected.
What Happens If You Are Not Indicted?
There are 3 main things that can happen if a Grand Jury chooses not to indict an individual. The first is that the case is dismissed and no indictment or charges are filed. This means that no criminal proceedings will happen and the individual should have nothing to worry about.
The second is that the prosecutor will return to the same grand jury at a later date, usually in a time frame that is predetermined by local law, and present new evidence. Just because a grand jury did not indict the first time does not mean they can’t change their mind when new evidence comes to light.
Finally, in some cases, a prosecutor may be able to call a new grand jury. However, this is the least common option and requires certain circumstances to be met. A prosecutor can not simply call numerous juries for the same case in the hopes that one chooses to indict.
Getting indicted can be scary and is almost always a serious matter. Contacting a lawyer is the best way to check for an indictment. Besides an attorney, individuals trying to figure out how to check if you have an indictment can also search local and federal court records.