A true bill is a written decision, handed down by a grand jury, that the evidence presented by the prosecution is sufficient to believe that the accused person likely committed the crime, and should be indicted. The words “true bill” are endorsed on the bill of indictment, which is then signed by the grand jury foreperson, indicating that there is enough evidence to justify a trial. To explore this concept, consider the following true bill definition.
Definition of True Bill
- A bill of indictment, handed down by a grand jury, stating there is sufficient evidence to justify prosecution of the defendant.
Circa 17th century
Purpose of a Grand Jury
A grand jury is used in the U.S. to protect people from unjustifiable and unfair prosecution. The grand jury, composed of 12 to 23 everyday citizens, reviews evidence, and hears testimony for the purpose of conducting an investigation into alleged criminal conduct. Such grand jury investigations take place behind closed doors, testimony being kept secret, in order to encourage witnesses to testify freely. If there is sufficient evidence presented to warrant the defendant being charged with the crime, and put on trial, the grand jury issues an indictment.
What is a True Bill Indictment
Once a grand jury hears all of the evidence presented by the prosecutor in a particular matter, it makes a determination about whether there is probable cause to officially charge the defendant with the crime(s). If the evidence is deemed sufficient, the grand jury issues a true bill indictment – essentially saying it is “true” that there is probable cause. If the grand jury feels there is not sufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges, the jury issues a “no true bill.”
When a true bill indictment is issued, it results in the defendant being criminally charged, and the move toward trial begins. When a no true bill is issued, most people never even know the matter was heard by a grand jury, as these proceedings take place confidentially.
True Bill Example as Enron Falls
In October 2001, the American people began hearing a great deal about a scandal surrounding Enron Corporation, an energy company based in Texas. Once hailed, in Fortune Magazine’s Most Admired Companies, as the most innovative large corporation in America, the company’s creative bookkeeping eventually led to its meteoric crash.
The company eventually was forced into bankruptcy, and during the investigation authorities learned of a pattern of illegal conduct undertaken by a number of Enron’s top executives. Federal prosecutors took their evidence to the federal grand jury, seeking criminal charges against more than a dozen Enron executives. These charges included, among other things, manipulating the books to create an illusion that the company was terrifically successful, while enriching themselves at their shareholders’ expense.
In a strong showing of success in a year-long investigation, federal prosecutors announced, on May 2, 2003, 11 true bill indictments, and later announced more. These true bill indictments charged various executives with such crimes as fraud, money laundering, maintaining false books, submitting false tax forms, insider trading, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice.
In this example of true bills issued by the grand jury, 16 executives pled guilty, and received various sentences. More than a dozen took their cases to trial. Most notable of the executives charged by true bills include:
- Enron founder Kenneth Lay – 7 counts of fraud and conspiracy, one count of bank fraud. In addition, he was charged with three counts of lying to banks, misleading them of his intent to use $75 million in personal loans to facilitate purchase of Enron stock.
- Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling – 35 counts of fraud, insider trading, and conspiracy.
- British Bankers David Bermingham, Giles Darby, and Gary Mulgrew – charged with defrauding their employer, National Westminster Bank, out of over $7 million in Enron’s CFO Andrew Fastow’s scheme.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Conspiracy – An agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal act, with the intent to achieve the agreement’s goal.
- Criminal Charge – A formal accusation by a prosecuting authority that an individual has committed a crime.
- Foreperson – A juror selected by the other jurors to preside over the jury.
- Fraud – A false representation of fact, whether by words, conduct, or concealment, intended to deceive another.
- Prosecutor – A lawyer who conducts a case against a defendant in a criminal trial.