A fundamental part of the workings of the United States federal litigation system is that of the grand jury. The main reason why these exist is for the purpose of deciding where or not the person being charged with a particular offence should be found guilty or not guilty of the crime. As a result of the purpose of a grand jury, it is typically one of, if not, the first courses of action in any criminal trial.
The process of going to grand jury
As part of any grand jury, somewhere between 16 to 23 American citizens are selected to make up it. These people come from the same pool of individuals that are also eligible to appear on trial juries. However, the process for selecting individuals requires much less time, with less questions being asked to each and every of the potential jurors. It is quite possible that any of these jurors are selected to be in court for as long as several months, although they are only required to actually be there for just a few days per month. During the proceedings for a grand jury process, a judge is not present in the courtroom, and most of the time, nor is the attorney of the defendant. Someone who is there though is the prosecutor and grand jury clerks and officers. As part of the process, the prosecutor explains what the law is to the jury and works with them throughout the entirety of the process.
During the process, the grand jury will be presented with evidence by the prosecutor. For the purpose of gathering up evidence for the jury, there is the ability for subpoenas to be issued. These are typically used to obtain things, such as witnesses, photos, physical evidence, and documentation. However, there are very strict rules that exist surrounding the use and admission of evidence – although there are actually no rules surrounding what can and cannot be used as evidence.
The proceedings of a grand jury are kept in ultimate confidence for the following two reasons:
- It provides protection to the defendant in those instances where the jury does not indict them.
- It provides encouragement to witnesses to come forward and make statements as they do not have to worry about retaliation.
Grand jury subpoenas
It is a particular rule (number 17) within the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that dictate how subpoenas can and cannot be used during grand jury proceedings. The reason why they exist within the setting of a grand jury is for the purpose of ascertaining evidence to be shown to the grand jury in order to show that the defendant was responsible for committing a federal offense.
Grand juries have a wide range of powers when it comes to issuing subpoenas. For instance they are able to be directed to any particular entity or individual and require the production of some evidence, as well as a testimony. The American constitution is the only thing that protects against a grand jury subpoena, as well as some certain privileges that are recognized by the United States law. If a subpoena is deemed to be overboard, then it can be said to be against the American constitution.
Once there has been an indictment, the United States government is not prohibited to use the subpoena power that the grand jury has for the purpose of further investigating the case. However, there are some cases that come about as a result of facts determined through an indictment. Where these situations happen, a grand jury is required to look at all of the facts that may lead to further criminal charges.
After the evidence is shown
After each and every piece of evidence has been presented to the grand jury and given a weighting, it is then up to the jurors to consider this and then come to a decision on whether or not the defendant should be indicted. There is no requirement for this decision to be unanimous amongst the entire grand jury. What is required for a grand jury indictment is a large majority of 3 / 4 or 2 / 3, depending on the particular jurisdiction where the case is being held. click to read more about your options after a grand jury indictment.
In criminal cases, a grand jury will put a true bill down. This is a specific type of indictment for when there are criminal charges at stake. Where these are handed down, the defendant is not necessarily found to be guilty of a criminal offense. Instead of this, the defendant is required to stand at trial for it.
In those instances where a jury votes against indictment of a person for a criminal offense, the case does not simply end there. There is still the possibility that the prosecutor may actually formally charge the defendant if they believe the case to do so is strong enough so that they might be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. However, for this to be the case, the prosecutor has to demonstrate to the judge that there is sufficient evidence for the case to be taken any further.
Where a grand jury does give an indictment, it is important to consider that it is not the responsibility of the grand jury to determine innocence or guilt in any case. The purpose of the grand jury is only to determine if there is probable cause in order to support the charges that are being made against the defendant.
Protecting our rights
Grand juries were created as a result of the Fifth Amendment of the American Constitution. It states as part of this that no single person can be held responsible for a crime unless there has been an indictment by a grand jury.
They are there then to protect all of our rights if and when we are accused of any sort of criminal offense. Prior to trial taking place, a determination is made by a grand jury on whether or not on if there is enough merit for the charges being made.