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Where indictments are handed

A reporter approaches me on the floor of the paragraph factory and asks—having heard conflicting language—whether indictments are handed down or handed up. Immediately the gallery responds: “Across!” “Over!” “Under!” “Around and through!”

Never ask a public question in a newsroom.

A little research, and very little it was, disclosed a post on the Editingmonks blog from 2007: It quotes Webster’s New World Law Dictionary that indictments are handed up from the grand jury to the court, and decisions from the bench are handed down.

The blog also quotes the eminent Dr. Ink of the Poynter Institute.

It is also correct to say that grand juries return indictments.

Somewhat more soberly, Bryan Garner’s Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage says that decisions are handed down and that that grand jury decisions are traditionally handed up to a criminal court.

Mr. Garner says that references to a grand jury’s handing down a decision are incorrect, but, as Google will show you, such references are legion.

The safest course: Say that the grand jury indicted.



Posted by John McIntyre at 4:03 PM | | Comments (1)


If a court rejects an indictment it is often through a motion to quash. To quash something means to repress it or push it down, from what I understand. It would be difficult to push something down that has not risen in the first place, so I figure indictments must be handed up rather than down.

Or not.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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