How do grand juries work?

On Behalf of | Jun 23, 2021 | criminal defense

Grand juries are often impaneled for some of the more serious felony cases. Prosecutors impanel grand juries to aid them in determining whether they should bring charges against a suspect.

Both the state and the federal government may impanel grand juries. You may want to learn more about when each level of government impanels them and how them doing so impacts your case.

What’s the difference between state and federal grand juries?

State grand juries are generally composed of between six and 12 jurors. Most states generally don’t use grand juries or use them very often if they do. Most states instead use preliminary hearings to determine if there is enough evidence to indict a defendant, a concept known as probable cause. 

The federal government does regularly use grand juries to decide whether to file charges against a defendant. Federal grand juries generally have between 16 and 23 jurors on them.

Grand juries need not reach a unanimous decision. A prosecutor may still decide to bring a case to trial if they believe they have a strong enough case to win.

How do preliminary hearings and grand juries differ?

Preliminary hearings differ from grand juries because they are generally open to the public. Preliminary hearings allow the defense to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses, unlike grand juries, which just feature the judge and prosecutor. A defendant has the right to request a preliminary hearing, but the court can deny the request.

The proceedings of a grand jury are strictly confidential, which serves two purposes: Witnesses are more likely to speak freely and anonymity protects them against intimidation.

What should you do if you’ve received a grand jury indictment?

If you’ve received an indictment, then you should prepare yourself now for how quickly your case is going to unfold. 

You don’t have a lot of time to process things when you’re facing potential criminal charges. It’s always wisest to have an experienced defense attorney by your side as early as possible.