If you’re suspected of a serious crime, there may be a lengthy investigation long before you are charged. That investigation may culminate in grand jury proceedings.
You may find it helpful to understand what grand juries are and they can impact on the outcome of your case.
What’s the purpose of a grand jury?
Prosecutors generally impanel grand juries when deciding whether to press charges (indict) a suspect on serious felony charges. In general, the purpose of the grand jury is to decide whether or not the prosecution has enough apparent evidence of someone’s guilt to take a case to trial.
Do all jurisdictions have grand juries?
The federal government uses grand juries before filing charges against any defendant. Only half of all states use grand juries. Many state prosecutors use preliminary hearings to determine if there’s probable cause or enough evidence to indict a defendant instead. (In those preliminary hearings they need only convince a judge that they have enough reason to take a case forward, not a jury.)
How do grand jury proceedings go?
Grand jury proceedings generally occur in secrecy, and the prosecutor has near-complete control over what happens. Suspects generally have no idea that charges are pending against them and cannot hire defense counsel to present their side of the case, including cross-examining witnesses at such proceedings. The goal is to encourage witnesses to speak freely and let the grand jurors see and hear all of the information the prosecutor may have about a case without many restrictions.
With that in mind, it’s important to remember that grand juries are not actual trials — which are much more restrictive about the rules of evidence. Plus, witnesses are able to tell their stories without any challenge to their statements or questions. It’s much easier for a prosecutor to get a grand jury to indict than it is for that same prosecutor to win an actual trial.
You need to put up a strong defense if you’re facing federal charges. Don’t let a grand jury indictment intimidate you into believing that you are out of options and have no defense. An attorney can help you learn more.