There are many areas of US law which really fascinate foreigners, especially those which they do not have in their own country. One area of the law in particular is that of a Grand Jury, a mechanism that a state or district can use to try to prosecute a defendant in a trial. I was fortunate enough to have an in-depth conversation last June, with the great legal mind Adam M Smith, who talked through the process that the men and women of the Grand Jury go through when a prosecutor seeks an indictment.
Here is a summary of the most important points.
The Basics of The Grand Jury
In a nutshell the Grand Jury is a hearing whereby the court will decide upon whether or not they will indict someone and take them to a trial. Whilst there are similarities, a Grand Jury differs greatly from a Preliminary Hearing because of the fact that no judge is involved and the public are not permitted entry. Despite the fact that all states are entitled to use the Grand Jury process, more than half of the states in the US prefer to use a preliminary hearing to decide whether or not to go to trial.
Who Is In Attendance
The only people in attendance here will be the jury and the prosecution, no judge will be present and the defense attorney is not required because as yet, there is no defense.
How Long Does It Take?
Naturally each situation will be different but these juries can go on for months at a time. Even if this occurs, the jurors will only be brought in for a few days every month, rather than being present each day as they would do in a trial.
What is Presented?
The idea of the Grand Jury is for the prosecution to convince the jury that there is enough evidence to take the case to a trial. During these proceedings there is evidence, exhibits and testimonies presented, in the same way that they would be during trial. The key here is to make a compelling case that there is probable cause to take the accused to a trial.
How Do They Decide?
The jury must rule in the majority of either 2/3 or 3/4 in order to have the accused indicted. If a decision cannot be reached, or the decision comes back not to take the defendant to trial, the prosecutor can still bring a defendant to trial if they believe that the case which they are going to mount is strong enough. If the Grand Jury have decided that they will go to trial, it will begin almost immediately, if the prosecutor must go it alone it will take a much longer period of time.
And there you have it, all you wanted to know about the Grand Jury.