An indictment, whether it is handed up in federal or state court, is a formal accusation — not a conviction — and it is among the first moves a prosecutor can make to bring a case to trial.
When a person is indicted in a criminal court in the United States, it means that a grand jury composed of residents chosen at random believed there was enough evidence to charge that person with a crime. Such panels, generally convened by judges at the request of prosecutors, meet for weeks, and can hear evidence in a variety of cases. The judge is not present during grand jury proceedings after the jurors are chosen, and jurors are able to ask the witnesses questions.
Unlike a criminal trial, where a jury has to reach a unanimous verdict, a grand jury can issue an indictment with a simple majority.
Grand jurors hear evidence and testimony only from prosecutors and the witnesses that they choose to present. They do not hear from the defense or usually from the person accused, unlike in a criminal trial where proceedings are adversarial.
That one-sided arrangement often leads defense lawyers to minimize indictments and argue that prosecutors can easily persuade jurors to indict.
After an indictment is unsealed, prosecutors share their evidence with defense attorneys, who often ask a judge to dismiss the case on various legal grounds.
It can take months for a case to go to trial, as both sides argue over various elements of the proceeding, including what evidence can be presented to a jury.