What is an indictment? Why would Trump get arrested? Here’s what to know about the process as he predicts charges

Written by on March 20, 2023

WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump has predicted Tuesday will be the day he is indicted as an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office comes to a close. 

Though there is no confirmation the indictment will come Tuesday, Trump may face charges for his alleged role in making a $130,000 hush-money payment to an adult film actress just before the 2016 presidential election to silence her about a past affair. 

Trump’s indictment would be the first time in American history a former president faces criminal charges. 

What does an indictment mean for Trump? Here’s what to know about the process: 

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What is an indictment? 

Former President Donald Trump watches the NCAA Wrestling Championships on March 18, 2023, in Tulsa, Okla. Trump’s calls for protests ahead of his anticipated indictment in New York have generated mostly muted reactions from supporters, with even some of his most ardent loyalists dismissing the idea as a waste of time or a law enforcement trap.

An indictment is a formal charging document used when it is believed a person committed a crime. It includes charges against the person and has to be filed before a case can move forward in court, said David Weinstein, a former federal and state prosecutor. 

Weinstein, a partner at Jones Walker law firm in Miami, said an indictment means a grand jury decided that there is “more likely than not” enough evidence based on testimony to move forward with charges. 

In federal court, every case proceeds by way of indictment, and some states, like New York, use a grand jury and indictments to proceed with cases.  

More:House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says Americans should not protest if Donald Trump is indicted

What is the indictment process?

A district attorney presents evidence to the grand jury and asks the jurors to consider certain charges, Weinstein said. The jury then votes in secret on whether enough evidence exists to charge someone with a crime. In federal court, the grand jury consists of 23 members. The number varies depending on the state. 

If the majority of the jury believes a person committed a crime, it returns with an indictment. 

People who are indicted can hire an attorney or choose to be represented by a public defender provided by the government. 

If the grand jury votes against an indictment, the person is not required to plead to a criminal charge and there is no trial. Weinstein said this rarely happens. 

What we know: Is Donald Trump likely to be arrested soon? Will he be indicted? 

Is getting indicted the same as being arrested? 

Former President Donald Trump campaigns on March 13, 2023, in Davenport, Iowa.

Weinstein said that if a person is indicted, it does not necessarily mean they are arrested. But the indictment process includes the defendant providing fingerprints and having a mugshot taken.

In situations where the grand jury moves forward with indictment, a person can either surrender to officials or law enforcement will track them down with an arrest warrant.

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Will Trump have mugshot taken and provide fingerprints?

If Trump would arrange to surrender, which Weinstein said he believes is likely, the former president will go to the district attorney’s office or open court to surrender. He’ll then be processed, provide his fingerprints and have his mugshot taken. 

Trump would then go to court and have an initial appearance in front of a judge and hear about the charges filed against him in the indictment.

There could be a variety of next steps before Trump would plead guilty or not guilty, Weinstein said, including rescheduling the arraignment and then asking for the case to be set for trial.

The case then moves through the judicial system. 

More:New York grand jury investigating Trump could hear from lawyer undercutting Michael Cohen

Can charges be dropped after an indictment? 

Former President Donald Trump listens as he is introduced to speak at the South Carolina Statehouse, Jan. 28, 2023, in Columbia, S.C.

Weinstein said charges can be dropped after an indictment, which frequently happens. 

The standard for a grand jury is “more likely than not,” he said, while the standard for conviction is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

If Trump were to be indicted, the district attorney could decide to dismiss the charges, the judge could enter a motion to dismiss the case based on legal grounds, or there could be a legal issue in terms of jurisdiction. 

“Just because the charges are filed doesn’t mean that down the road they could not be dismissed,” Weinstein said. 

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