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Bryan Kohberger was just indicted on all charges against him; but what does it mean to be indicted?

In the case of the Moscow murders, a grand jury decided there was enough evidence to charge the suspect with all four murders and burglary.

MOSCOW, Idaho — The man accused of murdering four University of Idaho students last November was indicted by a grand jury Tuesday on all charges against him, which has left many people with questions about what this means for his criminal trial.

When a suspect is indicted, they are formally told that it is believed they committed a crime, according to the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). In the case of the Moscow murders, a grand jury decided there was enough evidence to charge the suspect with all four murders and burglary, which he was originally charged with.

Here's what an indictment means for the suspect and the case:

Background info

Bryan Kohberger, 28, is accused of murdering Ethan Chapin, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Madison Mogen in their off-campus home on Nov. 13, 2022. He was arrested at his family's home in Pennsylvania on Dec. 30, 2022 and extradited back to Latah County shortly after.

Kohberger had his first appearance in Latah County Court on Jan. 5, 2023. One week later, he appeared again and waived his right to a speedy preliminary hearing. That hearing was then scheduled to begin on June 26, 2023, and last the entire week.

However, news broke Tuesday that Kohberger had been indicted of all charges against him by a grand jury. 

What is an indictment?

An indictment formally charges a suspect with the crimes they are accused of committing, according to Cornell Law School. Essentially, an indictment tells a suspect that enough evidence exists to charge them,

Once the prosecutor- in this case, Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson- has looked over all the evidence from investigators, that evidence is presented to an impartial group of people known as a grand jury. 

The grand jury, typically made up of 16-23 people, listens to the prosecutor and any witnesses called to testify before voting on whether enough evidence exists to charge the person with a crime. The vote is done in secret.

Unlike a standard jury, a unanimous decision does not need to be made; rather, at least 12 members of the grand jury must concur in order for an indictment to be issued.

It's possible that a grand jury could vote not to charge a person with a crime if the majority believes there isn't sufficient evidence. If that happened, no indictment would come from the grand jury.

The public won't know what actually happened during the hearing because all proceedings and statements made to the grand jury are sealed. However, the court did release a copy of the official indictment:

Kohberger is now set to appear before a Latah County judge on Monday. It is possible that Kohberger could enter a plea during that hearing.

How is an indictment different from a preliminary hearing?

Kohberger was originally scheduled to appear in court for his preliminary hearing in June. Now that he has been indicted, however, that hearing has been canceled.

In a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor is in charge of proving there is enough evidence to charge the suspect with the crimes they are accused of. The difference, however, is that the judge overseeing the hearing makes the final decision about whether the suspect will be charged or not.

When an indictment is issued, the grand jury makes the decision.

If the judge decides there is probable cause to believe the suspect committed the alleged crimes, a trial will be set shortly after the preliminary hearing. If the judge believes there is not enough evidence, the charges against the suspect might be dropped.

How does being indicted differ from being convicted?

The most notable difference between an indictment and a conviction is that an indictment does not mean the suspect has pleaded guilty or been found guilty of the charges they are accused of.

By definition, a conviction is "the act or process of finding a person guilty of a crime." In this case, Kohberger has not been found guilty of committing the murders. Rather, it has been decided that enough evidence exists to formally charge him with the murders and, potentially, go to a criminal trial.

If Kohberger goes to trial and is found guilty of the murders, then he will have been convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and burglary.

What's next?

Now that a grand jury has found there is enough evidence to formally charge Kohberger with the murders, he will appear in court on Monday and likely enter a plea. 

Typically, a preliminary hearing is the next step after a suspect pleads not guilty. However, because a grand jury indicted Kohberger, there is no longer a need for a preliminary hearing.

After Kohberger enters a plea, the judge will set a schedule for the next steps, including the trial and motions date. The judge may also set a deadline for the prosecutors to decide whether it intends to seek the death penalty.

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