What is a True-Bill Indictment?

By Beverly Bird
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A true bill is a type of indictment handed down by a grand jury after it has convened in a criminal matter. Most cases don’t go before a grand jury; these proceedings are reserved for more serious crimes. A grand jury decides whether the defendant should be tried for the crime. Its decision doesn't result in a conviction; it determines whether the defendant should go to trial, while a trial jury will decide whether he should be convicted.

The Indictment

After the prosecutor presents evidence to the grand jury, the jurors must decide if it’s sufficient to establish probable cause that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed that crime. If so, they’ll return a true bill of indictment. In some states, jurors must unanimously find that probable cause exists, but in others, only a majority of the jurors must agree. If they don’t find probable cause, this is called a “no bill.”

The Next Step

When a grand jury delivers a true bill of indictment, the defendant isn’t automatically convicted of the crime but he must stand trial for it. This doesn’t constitute double jeopardy because the grand jury proceeding itself didn’t expose the defendant to jeopardy -- his life and liberty weren’t at stake. The only issue decided was whether he should be held over for trial.