Someone charged with a state or federal felony may need to deal with a grand jury investigation. If you have been charged with one of these crimes, here is essential information to know about the grand jury process.
Grand Jury Overview
If you are facing a serious crime, you may face a grand jury proceeding. The prosecutor works with the grand jury to determine if they will bring criminal charges or an indictment against you.
Grand juries can be called in for duty for several months at a time but usually only appear in court a few days per month. A grand jury may consist of 16 to 23 people.
The grand jury is a critical part of criminal procedure that may bring an indictment against the defendant. However, a grand jury isn’t needed for every crime and sometimes isn’t used.
If you are dealing with a grand jury and you may be accused of a crime, you should contact a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney.
Grand Jury vs. Trial Jury
If you watch television, you probably know the basics of a trial jury. A grand jury is similar, but there are key differences.
The grand jury also consists of a group of people who were selected and have been sworn in to review potential criminal cases.
A trial jury only sits for as long as the criminal case, but a grand jury can be impaneled much longer. If it is a federal grand jury, it can convene for 18 to 36 months. State grand juries can be convened for one month to a year.
Most grand juries don’t meet every day; many only meet three or four days per month. In addition, many grand jurors are retired or work at home, so they have the time to serve.
The job of the grand jury, unlike a trial jury, isn’t to decide if you committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. All the grand jury does is determine if there is sufficient probable cause to file state or federal charges.
Grand Jury vs. Preliminary Hearing
The prosecuting attorney starts a grand jury indictment and a preliminary hearing for the city or county. They prevent the evidence to decide if there is sufficient cause to file criminal charges.
A preliminary hearing is in open court, and a judge presides. The accused party is there as well as their attorney. Witnesses can be cross-examined, too. There are looser rules of evidence than in a jury trial.
After the prosecutor presents their evidence, the judge decides if you should stand trial.
Grand Jury Procedure
One of the key things to understand about the grand jury is their deliberations are secret. The only ones in the room when the grand jury deliberates are the jurors, the prosecutor, and the court reporter. Everyone in the room is sworn to secrecy.
A grand jury proceeding doesn’t have a judge or bailiff. Rather, the foreman for the grand jury oversees the hearing. Another grand juror typically calls witnesses and tracks evidence that was presented.
If there are witnesses to the alleged crime, they are brought in one by one. They cannot have an attorney with them. However, witnesses can talk with their attorneys outside the room from time to time.
It’s important to note that once a grand jury is convened, the chances that criminal charges will be filed are high. Depending on the grand jury, the rate of the indictment is between 95% and 99%. Even if the jury doesn’t vote for an indictment, you still can be prosecuted.
If you are the subject of a grand jury, it’s essential that you retain defense counsel as soon as possible. But if you get an attorney early in the process, there is still time for a positive outcome.