Understanding Grand Jury Proceedings

What Are Grand Jury Proceedings?

According to Bouvier Law Dictionary a grand jury is a large jury that consists of 16 to 23 people, which investigates crimes and indicts defendants in felony cases. The grand jury consists of individuals within your community who are gathered to examine the evidence to determine whether the evidence suggests probable cause to believe a person accused of a crime has indeed committed it. The grand jury’s principal function is to determine if there is probable cause to believe that the alleged defendant committed a certain offense. If the grand jury finds that there is sufficient probable cause to believe that the person accused potentially committed the crime, then an indictment against the defendant is filed. The indictment then authorizes an arrest and trial before a different jury that determines guilt.

The Grand Jury will act as the investigating body that acts independently of either the prosecuting attorney or judge. The prosecutor will explain the law to the jury and the jury is able to see and hear anything they would like to be able to reach their decision. The Grand Jury is then supposed to make an objective determination of whether there is enough evidence to proceed with trying the defendant for the crime. The Grand Jury is a valuable test run of the trial for the prosecutors and is used in making the decision to bring the case forward.

State v. Federal Grand Jury Proceedings

In California, a grand jury proceeding is a legal process common in state felony cases where a jury of 16 to 23 citizens from the community convenes to evaluate whether there is sufficient evidence to charge or indict the defendant for criminal offenses. The job of the Grand Jury is to determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the defendant may have committed the crime. The Defendant is not generally present in the proceedings and is usually not aware that the grand jury proceeding is occurring. The prosecutor with present evidence that may include witness testimony o make the case that there is probable cause to charge the defendant with a crime.

In a Federal Grand Jury proceeding, under the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution, charges for serious felonies must be brought through indictment juries. The jury is an independent body made up of a specified number of citizens of a particular county, whose job is to determine whether or not charges should be brought against a potential defendant.


Why Grand Jury Proceedings Are So Unfair

The Grand Jury proceeding is unfair because the defendant is usually not present for the proceeding. There is no duty to place evidence contrary to the state’s case against the given defendant. Generally, there is no other lawyer besides the prosecutor present during the proceeding, a judge is not present either.  The witnesses can speak freely during the proceedings allowing for hearsay evidence to be presented. Further, the Grand Jury proceedings is unfair because if the grand jury does not find reason for indictment that does not mean that the defendant is acquitted, the prosecutor is allowed to seek indictment later from a different grand jury.

Probable Cause v. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Probable Cause and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt are burdens of proof that, usually, the prosecutor must meet in order to successfully fulfill their burden. Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the knowledge of the grand jury making the prosecuting decision, which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person  to believe that an offense has been committed. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof required in the U.S. legal system. According to Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, the fact finder would have to determine that there is “proof sufficiently convincing of some matter of fact that the finder of fact is convinced the matter is true, and therefore the finder of fact has no doubt that arises from the evidence, either that the matter is proved in general or that the evidence was sufficient and reliable as to  each distinct question to the matter.”

Kenney Legal Defense regularly represents clients who receive a summons to appear at grand jury proceedings.  If you or a loved one has received such a notice, contact our office for a quote for legal representation.

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