What is a Presentment? Avoiding the General Sessions Court


Presentment Criminal Law

A person can be arrested whenever they commit a crime in the presence of a police officer. But what happens when police conduct an investigation involving drugs, involving confidential informants and surveillance? How is a person charged with a crime in a situation where an officer did not witness the offense? Or what if the officer witnesses a crime, but doesn't want to make an arrest yet, such as in long-running investigations into drug or gang activity?

Presentment or Indictment

Two ways that criminal charges are initiated are 1) through a presentment or 2) through an indictment. Most people have probably heard the word "indictment" but may not have heard of a "presentment."

What is an Indictment?

An indictment is a formal written accusation charging one or more persons with a crime. It is written by the prosecuting attorney. The prosecuting attorney's office works with law enforcement to do the investigating.

The indictment is then sent to a grand jury that will determine whether there is "probable cause" to charge a person with a crime. "Probable cause" means the grand jury finds there are enough facts to lead a reasonable person to believe that the accused has committed a crime. In other words, a grand jury is not like a trial jury. The grand jury doesn't decide whether there are enough facts to prove a person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The grand jury simply determines whether the prosecution has enough evidence for a reasonable person to believe that the accused committed a crime.

If the grand jury returns a "True Bill," it means they found sufficient probable cause to charge a person with committing a crime. If it returns a "No True Bill," they didn't find enough probable cause. The actual indictment is important in this process because the indictment must describe each element of the offense the prosecution will have to prove at trial in order for the jury to find the accused guilty. The indictment also must describe the facts that support each element of the offense.

What is a Presentment Hearing?

A Presentment is very different from an Indictment. A Presentment results when the police conduct their own investigation and convey their findings to the District Attorney's office at the conclusion of that investigation. Then the District Attorney's office "presents" these allegations to the grand jury through the testimony of police.

If the grand jury determines that probable cause exists, a Presentment in the form of a "bill of indictment" is returned. Each member of the grand jury and the District Attorney must endorse the Presentment. Also, a Presentment includes the names of the witnesses – generally the police who provided testimony to the grand jury.

Presentment More Damaging

A Presentment can be more damaging to the accused than an Indictment. For example, if the police use confidential informants in the investigation of a drug case, the identity of those informants are withheld for months or even years before police begin grand jury proceedings. In other words, the police can use these secret informants for a very long period of time without their identities becoming known while the police build their case.

General Session Court Unavailable for Presentments

More importantly, a Presentment does not allow the criminally charged the benefit of the General Sessions processes. One important aspect of the General Sessions process is the right to a Preliminary Hearing. If an individual is charged through a Presentment, the accused will not have the opportunity to confront police and other witnesses at this critical stage in order to challenge whether there is actually enough evidence for the police to make an arrest.

High Profile Presentments

Two very high-profile cases from this area are typical examples of police investigation resulting in Presentments. The first was known as "Operation Orange Crush." In late 2009 and early 2010, Morristown police rounded up 22 people on serious drug charges, including the illegal sale of prescription pain pills, methamphetamine, ecstasy, cocaine, and marijuana. The investigation lasted for around two years before the police were ready to finally present their case.

More recently, in "Operation Grainger Strike," more than 55 individuals were criminally charged using the power of a Presentment. The evidence came from a highly-organized drug sting that involved not only the local law enforcement of the Grainger County Sheriff's Office, but also the 4th Judicial Drug Task Force and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Defense for Presentment

If you believe you may be the subject on an indictment, presentment, or any type of criminal complaint or investigation, it is important that you consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Please feel free to contact The Bowlin Law Firm today to discuss the facts of your specific case and to learn how we can help you.