Indictment notices and records are public records that can be inspected by anyone under state and federal Freedom of Information laws. You can access the records at a county or federal courthouse and sometimes online. Be aware that an indictment usually occurs after a prosecutor presents evidence to a grand jury, which decides which charges against a defendant should be brought forward. If you're under indictment, there's a strong chance that you'll be arrested in the course of making inquiries.
Check County Court Records
The county courthouse should keep a listing of indictments going back several months. The list will have names, charges and a statement from the district attorney's office certifying the indictment. There should be a file for each person listed, and those documents are public records as well. Unless you're turning yourself in, it's a good idea to ask your attorney to check the records. An attorney has attorney-client privilege and is not obligated to disclose your whereabouts.
Check Federal Court Records
Check the nearest federal courthouse. The clerk's office there should maintain all indictment records. There should be a terminal in the office where your attorney can search by suspect or party name. In some situations, however, the judge can order an indictment to remain sealed until the suspect is arrested or a summons is issued. Sealed indictments are not public records and your attorney is not entitled to see sealed indictments, either. However, your lawyer should know enough about the process to surmise whether a sealed indictment is a possibility.
Search specific websites that maintain court records outside of your current area, in case the indictment was issued in another county, a different state or by a different U.S. district court. Many states have unified court system websites, though records from all county-level courts may not be included. The federal judiciary's Public Access to Court Electronic Records or PACER website is available for public use and has records from every U.S. district criminal and bankruptcy court in the country. Access PACER at pacer.psc.uscourts.gov. New users must register first to make arrangements to pay for copies printed from the database. If you wish to remain anonymous, you might ask a friend to register on your behalf. State court system sites can be accessed from the National Center for State Courts website ncsconline.org.
- Suspects are typically arrested and arraigned after an indictment is issued, so authorities are more than happy to let you know in a timely manner whether you're under indictment.
- If the grand jury does not hand up any charges, the evidence that was presented remains sealed and is not public record.
Aaron Gifford is based in New York. He has been on staff at the "Syracuse Post-Standard," the "Watertown Daily Times" and the "Oneida Daily Dispatch." He's also written for "Long Island Newsday," "Empire State Report" magazine and "In Good Health." He has been writing professionally since 1995. Gifford holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University at Buffalo.