Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A DWI Indictment

I thought it might be interesting for those who've not seen one before to have a look at an actual indictment, the "charging instrument" that exists in every felony case that goes to trial.

Basically, it's a legal document that is designed to inform the defendant of the charges against him. As a result, it must contain the date, the place (which, in my cases, must be Travis County, Texas), and the basic elements of the crime we are alleging.

Here, it's a DWI. That means we have to allege the defendant was driving while intoxicated, where he was driving, and also allege that he has two prior DWI convictions (otherwise it would be a misdemeanor).


Note: although indictments are public documents, I have blanked out identifying information. I thought long and hard about it, and in the end decided that while the indictment can be viewed by anyone in the clerk's file, as long as it's in the file it remains tucked away amongst hundreds of others. I didn't want anyone to think I was intentionally (or unfairly) parading this particular defendant/case in front of my few but interested readers.


As I mentioned, the purpose of the indictment is to give the defendant notice of exactly what the charge is. As a result, he or she must receive a copy of the indictment at least ten days before trial. The indictment is also read aloud to the jury at the start of the trial, it's the very first thing that happens, right before opening statements.

6 comments:

  1. Most interesting and again great info on how the justice system works.

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  2. Assistant County AttorneyFebruary 3, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    "The indictment is also read aloud to the jury at the start of the trial, it's the very first thing that happens, right before opening statments..."

    It's also, in my opinion, one of the biggest wasted moments of the trial for most prosecutors. Every time I stand up to read one I treat it like I was back in high school dramatics competition. This is a prosecutors chance to *tell the jury what the defendant did* and I've heard far too many read the indictment or information like it was part of a car service manual.

    Of course, I'm sure they're highly effective when read in an English accent.

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  3. Are all alleged crimes presented to a grand jury, or only certain ones? If so, what decides which ae brought forward? Thank you.
    South Austin Crimefighter

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  4. Pretty much, yes. Some cases are put on a "fast track" system we're running. Those are usually low-level felony drug and theft cases, in which the defendant is given an opportunity to plead the case out before it's presented to the GJ. In exchange, he/she gets a very lowball offer. But even in these cases, there has to be an official "charging instrument" so we draft an "information" which looks very much the same. But in most cases, yes, the grand jury votes whether to indict.

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  5. Here, it's a DWI. That means we have to allege the defendant was driving while intoxicated, where he was driving, and also allege that he has two prior DWI convictions (otherwise it would be a misdemeanor). drunk driving

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