Here’s how indictments work in the United States’ legal system.
"Grand jurors hear from only one side of the case, the prosecution’s, and can indict a defendant with a simple majority.
A Manhattan grand jury has indicted Donald J. Trump for his role in paying hush money to an adult film star. That is only the first step in what is likely to be a long legal battle.
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. In this case, there were 23 grand jurors, meaning at least 12 had to agree on an indictment.
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. (Defendants in New York have the right to answer questions in front of the grand jury before they are indicted, but they rarely testify. Mr. Trump declined.) That one-sided arrangement often leads defense lawyers to minimize indictments and argue that prosecutors could persuade jurors to “indict a ham sandwich,” a proverbial phrase that former Vice President Mike Pence used on CNN Thursday night.
As in other criminal cases, the exact charges against Mr. Trump are under seal and will not be revealed until he is brought to Manhattan Criminal Court for a formal arraignment, which is expected to happen on Tuesday.
At that point, the indictment will be unsealed, initiating the case’s next phase. Prosecutors will share their evidence with defense attorneys, who often ask a judge to dismiss the case on various legal grounds.
A trial is not guaranteed and may not be scheduled for months, as both sides will most likely argue over the merits of the case and what evidence can be presented to a jury."