In the common law legal system, an indictment (pronounced /ɪnˈdaɪtmənt/ in-DITE-mənt) is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In those jurisdictions which retain the concept of a felony, the serious criminal offence would be a felony; those jurisdictions which have abolished the concept of a felony often substitute the concept of an indictable offence, i.e. an offence which requires an indictment.
Traditionally an indictment was handed up by a grand jury, which returned a "true bill" if it found cause to make the charge, or "no bill" if it did not find cause. Most common law jurisdictions (except for much of the United States) have abolished grand juries.
In Australia, an indictment is issued by a government official (the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, or one of their subordinates). A magistrate then holds a committal hearing, which decides whether the evidence is serious enough to commit the person to trial.
In Brazil an indictment (called denúncia) is issued by the public prosecutor, a member of the Public Ministry, and it is the document that starts the criminal prosecution.
The denúncia for most offenses is exclusively issued by the public prosecutor. However, some offenses (like rape or threatening) require the victim to sign a permission (called representação) in order to allow the prosecutor to file the indictment.
The indictment for lesser offenses (notably those against the victim's honor, such as defamation or calumny) can be filed only by the victims themselves (represented by a lawyer), in which case it is called queixa-crime.
England and Wales
In England and Wales (except in private prosecutions by individuals) an indictment is issued by the public prosecutor (in most cases the Crown Prosecution Service) on behalf of the Crown, who is the nominal claimant in all public prosecutions under English law. Thus a public prosecution of a Mr. Smith would be referred to in writing as "R versus Smith" (or "Regina v. Smith" or "Rex v. Smith" depending on the sex of the Sovereign reigning at the time of the case, regina and rex being Latin for "queen" and "king" respectively). In either case the case may informally be named as "R. versus" but in court would be pronounced "the Queen against Smith" or "the King against Smith".
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