What is a Grand Jury?
A grand jury is a set of 16-23 people who hear evidence presented by the prosecutor in a case against the person of interest. These individuals then decide if the evidence and witnesses presented are enough to justify bringing a formal indictment or criminal charges against the defendant in question. The grand jury is a very secretive process for the defendant in question because he or she is not allowed inside unless they are being questioned and their attorney, if they have one is not able to see or hear what is being said or brought out as evidence against their client. Grand juries do not need a unanimous decision in order to indict—they just need a supermajority, meaning a 2/3 or 3/4 agreement for indicting.
You’ve Been Subpoenaed… Now What?
You can never be sure that the prosecutor is not looking at you as a person of interest in their case. They may begin putting together their case and in the process of investigation your name may become increasingly important on their radar. When you receive the notice that you have been subpoenaed to appear and testify at a grand jury proceeding you will have no idea whether you are the person of interest who is being investigated or whether you are simply a material witness being called to corroborate or provide more information on the person of interest. You may have an inclination that you are being investigated and if that is the case then you should retain an attorney immediately so that he or she may discuss the case with the prosecutor and get a feel for what they are investigating and how serious the charges may be if they are formalized. If, however, you are not being investigated and are still subpoenaed it is important for you to get an attorney as well. The attorney who you have retained can sit outside the courtroom while you are appearing in front of the grand jury and they will be able to give you instructions as to what to do if certain types of questions are being asked or when to exercise your right to remain silent. Retaining an attorney also alerts the prosecutor that you have someone who is watching them and what they are doing so they do not try to overstep their boundaries and question you when they are not supposed to.
Appearing In Front of the Grand Jury
When you appear in front of the grand jury you will most likely be questioned. These questions are not released to your attorney, so he or she will have a game plan prepared that will be discussed with you beforehand so you are not blindsided once you are in the room. Your attorney is your first line of defense whether you are a person of interest or just a witness. Remember, anyone can go from a witness to a person of interest but having an attorney on your side makes the transition harder because you have someone who understands the system and all of its complexities on your side.