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Overview of The Indictment Process in Texas

The Law Firm of Andrea M. Kolski

The indictment process in Texas can be a source of confusion for many people who find themselves caught up in the legal system. It’s intended to ensure our rights are protected and we have the opportunity to a fair trial when the time comes. The system can be complicated and slow at times, but overall, it’s designed to be thorough and reduce the chances of being wrong.

The indictment process ensures the court starts out on good footing at the outset of an accusation. This is intended to keep the state honest while pursuing criminal accusations against a defendant. It also reduces the risk of careless action and overreach with time and careful consideration.

This slow process also allows emotions to be calmed so that the court and any potential jury can be as objective as possible. Sometimes the wait can help reduce the staggering load of felony cases the court reviews. In 2019 alone, there were over 225,000.

Here is an overview of the indictment process and the steps involved.

Court Terminology

The words we use in everyday conversation may have a different meaning in the legal world. This can create confusion for those outside the profession. Plus, there are a ton of law-related TV shows and news stories that can sometimes mix up the meaning of certain legal phrases.

Let’s clear up the meaning of a couple of the most common used words: indictment, arraignment, and arrest.


An indictment is a formal accusation handed down by a grand jury. This document establishes that a crime was committed and that sufficient grounds exist for the state to take action.

While indictments can exist for any level of crime, the majority are related to felonies. Misdemeanors don’t typically require an indictment to proceed to charges.


An indictment serves as the formal document that lays out a charge against a person (or group).

An arraignment signifies the start of court proceedings. Here, the court reads the charges, takes a plea, and places counsel on record. For those that plead guilty, this is the final step before sentencing.

According to the Texas code of criminal procedure, arraignments usually take place two days after an indictment. The gap in time allows a person, the accused, to secure counsel and to provide time for the arraignment appearance to be set.


While nearly all felony charges come with an indictment and an arraignment, fewer result in an actual arrest. An arrest is not a charge but simply a detainment of a person suspected of a crime.

The bar is lower for making an arrest than an indictment but arrests require charges to be filed or in-motion. Otherwise, they may free the suspect after a short time.

The Indictment Process Step by Step

An indictment only takes a few steps to get rolling but several of the steps contain surprising depth and can mimic the proceedings of a trial.

1. Pre-Hearing

Before the Texas indictment process gets started, investigators compile information to establish the basics of a case. This includes simple things such as that an incident occurred, when, where, and some elements of how.

Investigators are also responsible for finding witnesses and establishing a suspect (or suspects).

It is up to the defendant to decide whether they want to skip the indictment hearing. Though inadvisable, it is possible for a suspect to request skipping an indictment hearing and accept the formal charges. Doing so doesn’t equal a guilty plea.

2. Grand Jury Gathered

A grand jury is more informal than a trial jury but follows many of the same selection processes. These include establishing that all jury members are competent, residents of the jurisdiction, can read/write, are not themselves under indictment, and are able to serve.

There is no pre-trial phase in which counsel dismisses or certifies jurors but a general pledge of objectivity is still required. Typically, a court has several grand juries ready to go that hear multiple cases, rather than the one-off system of a trial jury.

3. Hearing

Once the grand jury is impaneled, the prosecution presents the basic information they have for the case. Their goal is to determine that a case can move forward by establishing the bare facts of probable cause.

While many grand jury hearings take place with only the prosecution and the jurors, it is possible for defense counsel to appear at a grand jury.

During the hearing, the prosecution establishes all charges against a suspect. Prosecutorial discretion allows for charges to be dropped after an indictment but adding them requires amending charges and going through another hearing.

4. Outcome

The grand jury votes on the presented information and decides if the indictment will go forward or not.

A True Bill is put forward when the grand jury decides a case has enough evidence to proceed.

A No Bill is issued when they decide that there is insufficient evidence to move forward.

Juries issue decisions on each count or charge, so it is possible to have a mixed bag of True and No Bills in an indictment.

5. Aftermath

In the case of a True Bill, a (normally) felony indictment is issued and an arraignment is set.

In the case of a No Bill, the prosecution has the option to go back to the investigation phase and then impanel a new grand jury and try again. In the case of a dismissal, rather than a No Bill, then they can’t be presented again.

Getting a dismissal is one of the best reasons to get counsel when facing an indictment proceeding.

Indictments and Statute of Limitations

Proceeding with charges ends the statute of limitations clock. However, the formation of a grand jury and the start of the indictment process does not. Some crimes have a specific time frame, for example 10 years, where charges must be filed or there is no case to pursue.

It is possible to be in the indictment process for years without a dismissal or True Bill issued.

Start Early

The indictment process is an important part of our right to due process as Americans. It’s important to understand the various terms and steps involved. It’s also important to consult with an experienced defense attorney if you or a loved one is in legal trouble. If you or a someone you love are suspected of a crime, it’s in your best interest to get an attorney working on your behalf as soon as possible.

Contact Criminal Defense Attorney Andrea M. Kolski today for a review of your situation and how we may be able to help.

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