A grand jury, which can consist of 16 to 23 people, does not decide issues of guilt or punishment. Rather, it decides whether the government should initiate an indictment or criminal charges against a particular defendant. Grand juries are used in cases of serious felonies and can be held at both the state or federal levels.
Courts will usually use a preliminary hearing instead of a grand jury to decide whether the prosecution can bring forward charges against a defendant. In both cases, however, the process is about deciding whether sufficient probable cause or evidence exists to move forward with criminal proceedings against a particular person.
More relaxed than normal court proceedings
The grand jury process is more relaxed than typical court proceedings. A judge will not be present and lawyers will usually not be there except for the prosecution. During the grand jury, the prosecutor will explain the various laws at play to the jury and hear testimony. The jury will also have the power to see and hear virtually any kind of testimony it wants.
Grand jury trials are strictly confidential. Witnesses are asked to speak without fear of being retaliated against. In this way, secrecy of the process also protects the reputation of defendants in cases where the jury decides that no indictment will occur.
A test run for prosecutors who want to move forward with a case
Prosecutors don’t have to follow the decision of the grand jury. They can still move forward with a trial when a strong enough case exists. In this sense, the grand jury process serves as a test run for prosecutors when they’re trying to decide if they’ll move forward with a case.
In situations where the grand jury does indict, the trial will usually happen faster because it allows prosecutors to bypass the process of presenting evidence to the trial judge.
Will you be involved in a grand jury process?
Those who may be facing the grand jury process will want to understand all of the laws and potential punishments that come into play in their cases. This understanding could help accused persons navigate their grand jury processes more effectively.