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updated 4/22/2004 2:28:55 PM ET 2004-04-22T18:28:55

People are probably saying to themselves that they thought Michael Jackson was already indicted.  Yes, charges were filed by the prosecutors. But now a grand jury has handed up an indictment. What does that mean?

A grand jury
An indictment means that a grand jury, composed of 19 citizens, evaluated the evidence presented by the prosecution, and at least 12 of them have come back and said that there was probable cause to believe that Michael Jackson  committed these crimes. 

A prosecutor filing charges is not enough in the state of California.  He or she has to go one of two ways—to a grand jury or a preliminary hearing. 

The prosecutor decided to go through a secret grand jury, where it's just the prosecution presenting evidence, and no defense attorneys present.  There is no cross-examination either.

An indictment is really not a huge legal hurdle.  Many experts will tell you that is not tough to get a grand jury indictment.  

The grand jury is effectively an arm of the prosecution. Sometimes there are even investigative grand juries, where prosecutors convene a grand jury just to force witnesses to come in and testify. 

There were 19 grand jurors in the Jackson case. They can ask questions and ask for certain witnesses, unlike a regular jury.  Some grand juries are considered more professional juries than are regular juries.  They are impaneled for 90 days, although now that this grand jury's work is over, they will almost certainly be disbanded. 

What are the charges against Jackson?
It was not a big surprise that Michael Jackson was indicted, although we don't know exactly which charges Jackson’s been indicted on. All the proceedings in front of this grand jury are secret.

The grand jury could indict on all the charges that the prosecution presented, or they could indict on more (or less) charges than the ones the prosecution presented.  All we've been able to confirm at this point is that Michael Jackson has been indicted by a grand jury.

What happens next?
The only shot that the defense really has in a California grand jury—and this is more than in most states—is that the prosecutor is obliged by law to present exculpatory evidence, meaning evidence that helps Michael Jackson.

After about 10 days, the defense is going to get an opportunity to review the entire transcript of the grand jury.  You can expect that these defense attorneys are going to challenge that these prosecutors did not present enough of the exculpatory evidence to this grand jury. 

They will likely also have challenges to the way that this grand jury was conducted.  We know that over a period of days, there was testimony in front of this grand jury from a psychologist, an attorney who represented the boy and his mother, the accuser himself, the brother of the accuser, the father of the accuser, and the mother of the accuser. There may also have been more witnesses. 

But this was expected. And it certainly looks like Michael Jackson is now going to trial. 

Dan Abrams is NBC News Legal Correspondent and host of MSNBC's 'The Abrams Report.' The Abrams Report airs weeknights, 6 p.m. ET

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