You may be well aware of your rights when it comes to defending yourself against criminal allegations. Among others, you have the right to an attorney, the right to face your accuser and the right to examine the evidence against you. However, there are certain phases of the criminal process when it may seem that the system is violating your rights.
Grand jury proceedings may be one of those times. Texas, like many other states, uses a grand jury to determine whether a criminal case will proceed to trial. It can be a mysterious part of the justice system, so it is important to understand how it may affect you.
How does it work?
Unless you already understand how this important phase of the criminal process works, you may assume the justice system is being unfair. After all, grand jury proceedings take place in secret, behind closed doors, and you may not even realize they are going on. During this process, the prosecutor presents the jury with the evidence against you. The jury will then decide if the evidence is strong enough to support the prosecutor's charges against you. The differences between a trial jury and a grand jury include the following:
- Although both juries come from pools of ordinary citizens, once the grand jury of six to 12 people is seated, they may have to return several days a month for several months to hear a variety of cases.
- Your defense attorney will not present any evidence for your side. Instead, only the prosecutor lays out all his or her evidence.
- Unlike a trial, the grand jury rules do not allow you to be in the room during the process.
- The grand jury does not have the authority to convict you, only to decide if the evidence adds up to probable cause for the prosecutor to proceed to trial.
It may seem like the prosecutor has an advantage because he or she gets to try out the case before a jury to see how strong the arguments are against you. However, you also benefit from the grand jury. If the grand jury decides the prosecutor's case is too weak, that decision may spare you the damage to your reputation and community standing that could occur in a trial. The grand jury also does not violate your right to obtaining a strong legal advocate and building a solid defense strategy.