A Grand Jury is a group of jurors, usually 12 to 23, sworn under oath, that listen to evidence and determine if probable cause exists to indict the accused with a crime. The Grand Jury is selected by a judge from nominations or from the regular jury pool. The Grand Jury sits for a month, several months, or a year depending on the jurisdiction. Grand jury proceedings and deliberations are secret.
Functions of the Grand Jury
The Grand Jury has two main functions:
- To determine whether there is probable cause that the defendant committed a crime. If the Grand Jury finds there is probable cause that the accused committed the crime charged, then the Grand Jury issues an indictment.
- To inquire into public wrong doing by state or local government officials, whether the acts are criminal or are just reckless or incompetent.
The Grand Jury carries out its function by:
- Viewing evidence and hearing testimony from witnesses
- Issuing indictments when probable cause exists
- Making recommendations regarding any public wrong doing
What Happens at a Grand Jury Hearing?
The prosecutor presents evidence and witnesses to the Grand Jury in an attempt to establish there is probable cause that the accused committed the crime charged. The Grand Jury may request further evidence or witnesses from the prosecuting attorney, may subpoena evidence or witnesses, and may question each witness who testifies. The accused has no right to be present or testify to the grand jury and no cross examination takes place. If the Grand Jury finds that probable cause exists, they issue an indictment and the case proceeds toward trial. If the Grand Jury finds that no probable cause exists, no indictment is issued and the charges are dismissed.
Is There a Grand Jury Hearing for All Criminal Cases?
No. Most jurisdictions hold a Grand Jury hearing only when a felony is charged. Many jurisdictions hold a preliminary hearing instead of having the Grand Jury hearing to determine whether probable cause exists and to determine whether the accused should stand trial, thus making the Grand Jury’s role in criminal cases relatively minor.
Seeking Legal Help
If you are accused of a felony, you should speak to a criminal lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses, and the complicated legal system.