Handbook for Trial JurorsServing the United States District Court
The Criminal Case
The person charged with a violation of the law is the defendant. The charge against the defendant may be brought in two ways. One way is by means of an indictment; the other is by an information.
An indictment is a written accusation by a grand jury that charges the defendant with committing an offense against the law. Each offense charged will usually be set forth in a separate count of the indictment.
An information is the name given to a written charge against the defendant filed by the United States Attorney and not by the grand jury. But even in cases where the defendant has the right to have a grand jury consider the charges presented, the defendant may agree to give up this right and consent to the filing of an information.
After the indictment or information is filed, the defendant appears in open court where the court advises the defendant of the charge and asks whether the defendant pleads "guilty" or "not guilty." This procedure is called the arraignment.
No trial is needed if the defendant pleads guilty and admits to committing the crime. But if the defendant pleads not guilty he or she will then be placed on trial.
The judge in a criminal case tells the jury what the law is. The jury must determine what the true facts are. On that basis the jury has only to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty as to each offense charged. What happens thereafter is not for the jury’s consideration, but is the sole responsibility of the judge. In other words, the sentence is not to be considered in any way by the jury in arriving at an impartial verdict as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
The jury must consider separately each of the charges against the defendant, after which it may find the person: not guilty of any of the charges, guilty of all the charges, or guilty of some of the charges and not guilty of others.