How a federal grand jury works

As with any criminal case, a federal charge will typically go before a grand jury before the prosecutor can file a formal indictment. According to the U.S. Courts, the grand jury does not decide guilt or innocence like a trial jury. Instead, it determines if there is enough evidence to press charges. 

A U.S. attorney presents the case to the grand jury and tries to prove there is reason to believe a person committed a crime. The primary purpose of this process is to protect accused individuals from accusations that are untrue and malicious prosecution that lacks evidence. 

The basics of the jury 

The grand jury consists of 16 to 23 jurors and only hears evidence presented by the prosecution. If there are witnesses, they will appear before the jury only when testifying as the general public does not have access to the proceedings. The accused has no right to a defense in the grand jury and cannot appear before them. The accused also cannot waive his or her right to a grand jury because federal law requires the process for any felony charge. 

The benefits of a grand jury 

According to the Washington Post, one of the prosecutorial benefits of a grand jury is that it allows time to build a case. They are able to subpoena witnesses and collect evidence that they may not have access to during the course of a routine investigation. The attorney has opportunities to gather more information using methods like bargaining with other individuals involved in the crime. For example, they could offer a deal not to prosecute in exchange for witness testimony. 

For the accused, it allows for a fair process. This may be especially true for those suspected of white-collar crimes because grand juries often end without indictments. This means the accused receives protection against overzealous prosecutors who attempt to make a case without sufficient evidence.