What Is a Grand Jury?

What Is a Grand Jury?

Even if you’ve never gotten called for jury duty, you are probably somewhat familiar with what juries do from watching movies like 12 Angry Men. However, you may not know that two different types of juries play a role in the justice system – trial juries and grand juries. Read on to learn what distinguishes these groups and how to contact a lawyer when you need one.

What Does a Grand Jury Do?

Essentially, grand juries work with the prosecutor as a “test run” to help them decide whether to bring criminal charges or an indictment against a potential defendant. Usually, prosecutors do not use a grand jury unless the case involves a serious felony.

Grand juries typically consist of 16 to 23 people, and the individual jurors may serve jury duty for months at a time. However, they will probably only have to report for a few days of each month.

How Does a Grand Jury Work?

Grand jury proceedings tend to be more casual than a typical courtroom scenario. There’s no judge, and sometimes the prosecutor is the only attorney present. After explaining the law to the jury members, the prosecutor will help them gather evidence and hear testimony.

The usual rigorous courtroom rules of evidence do not apply with a grand jury – the jurors have broad authority to see and hear almost anything they believe would help them make their decision. Unlike most trials, grand jury proceedings remain strictly confidential for two reasons:

  • To encourage all witnesses to speak freely.
  • To protect the suspect if the jurors decide not to bring charges.

While prosecutors will take the grand jury’s opinions seriously, they do not have to abide by them if they strongly disagree. Additionally, a grand jury does not need to be in unanimous agreement to issue an indictment, but a supermajority must agree (two-thirds or three-quarters of the jurors, depending on the jurisdiction).

Grand Jury vs. Trial Jury

A trial jury is responsible for delivering a guilty or innocent verdict in a criminal trial. Like a grand jury, a trial jury consists of everyday people who got called to serve jury duty. In contrast, a trial jury is smaller than a grand jury, with six to 12 people who serve for the full length of the trial.

A judge controls the trial court procedure, keeping it highly regimented. Unlike a grand jury, members of a trial jury usually cannot ask questions or request to see specific evidence. Instead, the attorneys for the defense and prosecution carefully select which pieces of evidence the trial jury gets to see.

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