What is an indictment, and what does being indicted mean for Trump? Legal terms explained.

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Former President Donald Trump has been indicted, and he’s expected to be arraigned next week — which has left plenty of people wondering what exactly these legal terms mean. 

In fact, in the 12 or so hours after news of Trump’s indictment was made public, Google searches along the lines of “What is an indictment,” “What does it mean to be indicted,” and “What does Trump indictment mean” spiked more than 5,000%. There were also breakout queries of “indictment vs. arrest” and “what is an arraignment?” 

Also see: Trump set to surrender Tuesday — here’s what’s next after his indictment

So let’s break things down, drawing from the United States Courts glossary and the Cornell Law School’s free legal dictionary.

An indictment is what formally charges a person with a crime. During the indictment proceeding, as we saw with Trump, a grand jury decides whether there is enough evidence that the defendant committed the crime to justify having a trial. 

On Thursday, a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Trump, marking the first time in U.S. history a former or serving president will face criminal charges. The specific charges against him have not been unsealed yet.

Next, Trump will be arraigned in New York, which his lawyer told MarketWatch is expected to happen on Tuesday, April 4. In an emailed statement Thursday, a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said arrangements are being made for Trump’s surrender: “This evening we contacted Mr. Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal. Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.”

So, what is an arraignment? This is the first step in a criminal proceeding, where the defendant is brought into court and told of the charges against them in the indictment. This is also when the defendant is asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Trump has denied doing anything wrong, and responded with a statement calling the indictment “political persecution” and the result of a “witch hunt.”

To be clear, neither an indictment nor an arraignment is the same as a conviction, and Trump will continue to be presumed innocent unless he is proven guilty. A conviction would be if the formal decision (aka verdict) of a trial jury or judge determined that he is guilty of a charged offense. 

This is why former House Speaker and Democrat Nancy Pelosi has been called out on Twitter. Pelosi tweeted a statement after Trump’s indictment that said, “No one is above the law, and everyone has the right to a trial to prove innocence.” But in fact, the onus is not on Trump or his team to “prove innocence” during a trial. It is the prosecution that bears the burden of proof to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump committed any crime. And Pelosi’s tweet has been amended on Twitter with a disclaimer that reads, “Ms. Pelosi mistakenly says that Trump can prove his innocence at trial. Law in the US assumes the innocence of a defendant and the prosecution must prove guilt for a conviction.” 

There are also plenty of questions trending on Google searches about whether Trump could still serve as president now that he’s been indicted, or whether being convicted of a crime would bar him from the White House. As explained here, yes, an indicted person can still run for president, as there is nothing in the Constitution preventing it. 

And legal experts say that Trump could still run even if he were to be convicted. 

One interesting wrinkle, however, is that if he were convicted of a felony, he would probably not be allowed to vote for himself, as 48 states ban people with a felony conviction from voting. 

Read more here: 

Donald Trump has been indicted. Could he still run for president?

Donald Trump indicted in Stormy Daniels case. No U.S. president had ever before been criminally charged.

Trump indictment draws ‘lock him up’ cheers and ‘it is un-American’ jeers online

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