Difference Between an Arrest & an Indictment

By Cam Merritt
You, arrest, What
handcuffs image by William Berry from Fotolia.com

Indictment and arrest are two major steps in the criminal justice system. One is an accusation, the other is an action.

Indictment

An indictment is a formal statement of criminal charges. Indictments are issued, or "handed up," by grand juries.

Alternative to Indictment

An indictment is not the only way to charge someone with a crime. A prosecutor can file charges--known as a "complaint"--directly with the court. To "press charges" is to request that a prosecutor do so, and to agree to testify in court.

Arrest

To arrest someone is to place him under direct control and custody, depriving him of liberty.

Arrest Authority

Courts can issue arrest warrants, but police can arrest a person without a warrant if they have "probable cause" that she has committed a crime.

Relationship

Because an indicted person has already been charged, he will be arrested. But an arrest based on probable cause doesn't necessarily result in charges, and many arrested people are freed without charge.

About the Author

Cam Merritt is a writer and editor specializing in business, personal finance and home design. He has contributed to USA Today, The Des Moines Register and Better Homes and Gardens"publications. Merritt has a journalism degree from Drake University and is pursuing an MBA from the University of Iowa.