Almost everyone who lives in Chicago knows at least a little about the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. Even if they are not familiar with the name, the mere mention of video recording of the teen being shot by the cop will garner an "Aha." They may know, then, that the officer accused in the case was charged with murder before the video was made public.
Would they be confused, then, to hear that the officer was indicted just this week, three weeks after he was charged? Aren't being indicted and being charged the same thing? And why did it take so long?
There is a difference. "Charge" is the generic term for the formal accusation of a crime. The charge is the first step in a criminal prosecution, but it may take different forms. For example, in Illinois, there are three kinds of charge: complaint, information and indictment.
If the crime is a felony, the justice system requires an additional review of the evidence against the accused before the state's attorney can prosecute. Remember, a felony is a crime that carries a penalty of at least one year in prison. The extra review checks the power of the state's attorney. The state's attorney cannot increase the severity of a crime on a whim; the prosecution must show probable cause that the accused committed the crime.
What the state's attorney can do is decide whether to take the evidence to a judge or a grand jury. A judge will hold a preliminary hearing to determine probable cause.
The grand jury process is a little different. We'll explain more in our next post.
Source: Illinois Courts, Grand Jury Handbook, accessed online Dec. 18, 2015 vote are held in secret, too.