The grand jury plays an important role in the criminal process, but not one that involves the determination of guilt or the punishment of one of the parties. instead, a prosecutor will work with a grand jury to decide whether to bring criminal charges or an indictment against a potential defendant, usually reserved for felonies. Grand jurors may be called on jury duty for months, but only need to appear in court a few days each month. Juries in regular court trials are usually 6-12 people, but in the federal system, a grand jury can have 16-23 people.
grand juries are tools used as part of criminal proceedings to bring an indictment against a defendant. however, they are not always necessary and, in some cases, are not even used. So how does a grand jury work? read on for more information.
How is a grand jury different from a preliminary hearing?
Although all states have provisions in their laws that allow grand juries, about half of states do not use them. Courts often use preliminary hearings before criminal trials that are adversarial in nature. As with grand juries, preliminary hearings are meant to determine if there is enough evidence or probable cause to charge a criminal suspect.
Unlike a grand jury, a preliminary hearing is generally open to the public and involves attorneys from both sides and a judge (unlike grand juries involving only jurors and the prosecutor). sometimes a preliminary hearing precedes a grand jury. one of the biggest differences between the two is the requirement that the defendant request a preliminary hearing, although the court may deny the request.
grand jury proceedings
The operation of a grand jury is much more relaxed than normal courtroom procedures. there is no judge present and often there are no lawyers except the prosecutor. the prosecutor will explain the law to the jury and work with them to gather evidence and hear testimony. Under normal courtroom rules of evidence, exhibits and other testimony must meet strict rules before admission. however, a grand jury has ample power to see and hear almost anything it wishes.
However, unlike the vast majority of trials, grand jury proceedings are kept strictly confidential. this has two purposes:
- encourage witnesses to speak freely and without fear of reprisal.
- protects the potential defendant’s reputation in case the jury does not decide to indict.
the decision of the grand jury and the discretion of the prosecutor
grand juries do not need a unanimous decision of all members to indict, but they do need a supermajority of 2/3 or 3/4 agreement for an indictment (depending on the jurisdiction). Although a grand jury may choose not to indict, a prosecutor can still take the defendant to trial if he believes he has a strong enough case. however, grand jury proceedings are often valuable evidence for prosecutors in making the decision to pursue the case.
If the grand jury decides to indict, the trial will most likely start sooner. Without a grand jury indictment, the prosecutor has to prove to the trial judge that he has enough evidence to proceed with the case. however, with a grand jury indictment, the prosecutor can skip that step and proceed directly to trial.
how does a grand jury work in your state? get answers from an expert
Are you or someone you know facing a potential grand jury? Do you have additional questions about how a grand jury works and how you can protect your constitutional rights? An attorney with experience in criminal law in her state will have more information about the grand jury process where she lives and will be able to ensure that his interests are protected. Contact a criminal defense attorney in your area today to learn more.