1902 Encyclopedia > Indictment


INDICTMENT, in English law, is a formal accusation in writing, laid before a grand jury, and by them presented on oath to a court of competent jurisdiction. It is thus distinguished from a mere presentment by the grand jury made on information within their own knowledge, and from an INFORMATION (q.v.), by which a prosecution is instituted at the suggestion of a public officer without the intervention of a grand jury. The grand jury hears in private the witnesses in support of the application, and, if it considers that a prima facie case has been made out, it is its duty to find the indictment "a true bill." Otherwise it sends the indictment into court torn up, which is a finding of " no bill." In this case the indictment is said to be ignored. An indictment is said to consist of three parts-—the com-mencement or caption, the statement of the facts constitut-ing the crime, and the conclusion. In each part appropriate and highly technical language is still used, but verbal precision is not so essential as it once was, and departure from the ordinary formalities, if it involves no misapprehension or mistake, does not make a flaw in the indictment. The formal commencement of an indictment is after the follow-ing style :—" Middlesex to wit. The jurors for our lady the Queen on their oath present," &c. The name of the county and district in the margin is the " venue," and it should in general be the county in which the offence was committed, or the district over which the jurisdiction of the court extends. An indictment concludes wñth the words " against the peace of our lady the Queen, her crown and dignity," if the offence is a crime at common law. If the offence is a crime by statute, the indictment must also use the words " against the form of the statute in such case made and provided." In the " statement" great care must be taken to set forth the facts of the case with certainty and precision. It may be mentioned that in the Criminal Code Bill, which has been drafted on behalf of the crown by Mr Justice Stephen, and revised by a judicial commis-sion, it is proposed to substitute for the existing formalities a simple statement of particulars, with a reference to the section of the code defining the offence. An indictment lies " for all treasons and felonies, for misprision of treasons and felonies, and for all misdemeanours of a public nature at common law." And if a statute prohibit a matter of public grievance, or command a matter of public conveni-ence, all acts or omissions to the contrary, being mis-demeanours at common law, are punishable by indictment if no other mode of proceeding is pointed out by the statute. The statement of the offence is called a count, and an indictment may consist of several counts. But only one offence ought to be charged in each count, and offences of a different nature, e.g., murder and burglary, should not be charged in the same indictment. Until recently it was thought improper to charge theft in one count and receiving in another of the same indictment; but that is now made possible by statute. So a prisoner may be charged as accessory before the fact in one count, and as accessory after the fact in another. At common law an indictment may be preferred at any time after the offence committed; but various periods of limitation have been fixed by statute in special cases. For example, certain kinds of treason must be prosecuted within three years.

Prosecutions by indictment in the United States gene-rally resemble those of English law, the offence being charged as " against the peace and dignity of the state or commonwealth," unless it is a statutory offence, when the conclusion "against the statute," &c, is used.

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