Yesterday Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders reported that one current, one former and one hopeful Covington City Commissioner were "indicted". Of course that word sparks wide spread news coverage and implants in the public's mind a certain horror. But, for the sake of those who might not have followed the use of indictments closely over the years, I thought it might be a good idea to answer the question: What does it mean to be 'indicted'?
Websters defines the word "indict" to mean charged with a crime. But there are many ways to charge someone with a crime and there are several classifications of crimes in Kentucky.
The most common way to charge someone with a crime is by the issuance of a citation by a police officer. For example people can be cited for speeding or disorderly conduct, public intoxication or littering in this fashion.
The next way a person can be charged with a crime is by way of a complaint by a police officer, government agent or a private citizen. Complaints usually are brought before the county attorney and include virtually every variety of infractions covered by law.
The third way a person can be charged with a crime is by way of "an information" which is a formal charge brought by the prosecutor upon evidence available at the time.
The fourth way a person can be charged with a crime is by way of indictment. This process is a secret one. The court summons a group of citizens to sit on a local grand jury. The prosecutor is basically in charge of their work and presents evidence to them behind closed doors. That evidence comes only from one side and usually does not include presentation of any evidence by the person the prosecutor seeks to charge with a crime.
Often the only witness is a police officer. The prosecutor alone, without a judge present, then tells the people on the grand jury how the law and facts match up. It takes only 9 of the 12 to agree and the paper they present to the judge is called an indictment.
But what many in the public are not told is that there are four classifications of potential criminal conduct which can be alleged in Kentucky.
The lowest offense level is that of a violation, like a traffic ticket. The next lowest is a misdemeanor and within that category are class B and Class A misdemeanors. Those ultimately convicted of B misdemeanors face no more than 90 days in jail, A misdemeanors not more than 12 months.
The next level of offenses are felonies, these carry penalties of a little as a year up to and including life in prison. Some felonies are called capital offenses and some felonies carry the death penalty.
In the case of the city commissioner, the former city commissioner and the would have been city commissioner, they were charged with misdemeanors by way of indictment. Could they have been cited, summoned, charged by complaint or by information? Perhaps, but the fact that their case was heard behind closed doors by the grand jury means that the paper on which the allegations against them was presented is called an indictment.
And what are they charged with? Distributing campaign materials without the"paid for by" disclaimer at the bottom.
So, in fairness to all, the three of them now will have their chance to tell their side of the story, but along the way the public will have heard the word "indicted" and it will certainly carry with it a certain stigma.
But, in the words of Paul Harvey, now you know (at least some) of the rest of the story.