I just read the indictment of Christopher Collins, a congressman, for relaying insider information on a company with publicly traded stock, and for "lying" to a federal agent, ie for denying he relayed the information. So, in other words, to deny commission of a crime is a "lie" apparently if the agent thinks you committed the crime.

In any case, what surprised me was that the indictment had no evidence in it. There were no affidavits by first party witnesses and the physical evidence, emails and text messages, were completely unprovenanced and obviously edited and not in any kind of original form as they would come from a telephone company. Moreover, the apparent witnesses to the crime were only referred to by codes such as "CC-3" and there were no affidavits by any of these people, either signed or anonymous. The indictment was essentially 30 pages of innuendo and empty allegations unsupported by any concrete evidence.

So, maybe I misunderstand the idea of an indictment. I thought that to bring someone to trial, the indictment had to include evidence, not just charges. However, the indictment linked above just seems to have charges in it. Is my understanding incorrect?


2 Answers 2


An indictment is issued by a grand jury when they are convinced, on the basis of evidence presented to them by the government, that there is probable cause to believe that the person committed a crime. However, the indictment only has to state the charges, i.e. the grand jury's conclusion; it doesn't have to describe the evidence that led them to this conclusion.

In particular, the grand jury can hear the testimony of witnesses under oath, and has subpoena powers to compel testimony. But testimony before a grand jury is sealed and must not be revealed by anyone except the witness themself.

A good source for learning more about the grand jury process is the Handbook for Federal Grand Jurors. The authoritative source is the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Title III.

So, there must have been some evidence that he committed a crime, at least in the grand jury's view. But we, the public, don't get to see it at this time.

If the case goes to trial, evidence will be presented publicly at that time, though it won't necessarily be the same evidence that convinced the grand jury to indict.

(Note that this answer is about the US federal criminal justice system, since that's what's involved in the Collins case. Some states may have a similar system; others may not.)

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    For what it is worth, everything that you have said in this answer except for the linked sources would be true in every U.S. state that uses grand juries. Also, the defense can insist on disclosure of any exculpatory evidence available to the prosecution prior to trial, even if the prosecution doesn't intend to use it. (It does not have to disclose evidence tending to show guilt in all cases, however, allowing it to keep sources secret, for example). The only non-U.S. jurisdiction that still uses grand juries is Liberia and only about half of U.S. states routinely use grand juries.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 9, 2018 at 6:30
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    The OP may also be interested in the criminal complaint which generally includes evidence collected by investigators (the SEC, FBI etc.) explaining why they believe a crime has been committed. Aug 9, 2018 at 13:35
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    @AFischbein A criminal complaint, like an indictment, is a bare bones summary of things claimed to have happened, not a compilation of evidence.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 9, 2018 at 19:26
  • @AFischbein If I'm reading it right, the complaint you linked is a civil action by the SEC for insider trading. They want the money and a ban from serving as a director. The indictment is for a separate but related criminal case for securities fraud, wire fraud, and false statements. Aug 10, 2018 at 5:54

Beyond Nate Eldredge's excellent answer, I just want to focus on one portion of your question: "to deny commission of a crime is a "lie" apparently if the agent thinks you committed the crime."

The US Attorney's Manual and Criminal Resource Manual has a whole section devoted to false statements and fraud against the government. If you read it, you'll see that the false statements statute is quite broad. But there is a portion in Section 9-42.160: False Statements to a Federal Criminal Investigator that addresses the Department of Justice's general policy as it relates to the issue you've identified:

It is the Department's policy not to charge a Section 1001 violation in situations in which a suspect, during an investigation, merely denies guilt in response to questioning by the government. This policy is to be narrowly construed, however; affirmative, discursive and voluntary statements to Federal criminal investigators would not fall within the policy. Further, certain false responses to questions propounded for administrative purposes (e.g., statements to border or United States Immigration and Naturalization Service agents during routine inquiries) are also prosecutable, as are untruthful "no's" when the defendant initiated contact with the government in order to obtain a benefit. See the Criminal Resource Manual at 916 for a brief discussion of the case law.

You can click through for the case law, including various instances where courts have accepted or not accepted this "exculpatory no" exception.

This, in short, is why you want to shut up and get a lawyer if you're being questioned by the FBI before you stumble into saying something stupid. You might, in some cases, get away without a false statements charge if your entire lie is just a denial of guilt. But as the manual states, this is narrowly construed. There's a difference between just saying "I didn't do it" when you're being questioned and telling affirmative lies like "I wasn't at the bank" or "I was at home in bed."

The indictment is rather vague on what exactly he said, but at trial, the government could introduce evidence of what Collins told the FBI to show that the false statements went beyond just denying he committed a crime.

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    This is somewhat analogous to the notion that in a defamation case a statement of law or statement of opinion is not actionable, only a statement of fact. If you denial of guilt, in context is an untrue statement of a specific fact it is much more likely to be a basis of a prosecution than merely saying "I'm not guilty of anything." Shut up an get a lawyer is still the better course of action, however.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 9, 2018 at 8:06
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    Agree with all the above. I think rape cases present one of the easiest ways to see the distinction they're making. If an investigator asked the rapist, "Did you rape that girl?" and he said no, that probably wouldn't be the basis for a false-statements charge in part because we don't let rapists decide whether their conduct is criminal. But if the investigator asked a question of fact -- "Did you have sex with that girl?" or "Did you know she didn't consent?" or "Did you slip something in that girl's drink?" -- and got a false answer, that would the kind of answer that would merit charges.
    – bdb484
    Aug 9, 2018 at 10:28

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