What Is a Grand Jury Hearing?
Although some people know of the term “grand jury,” few people know the purpose of a grand jury hearing. The grand jury is a key part of the criminal justice system. If you are facing criminal charges, then you should understand the purpose of this judicial process.
Defining a Grand Jury Hearing
A grand jury has nothing to do with determining an individual’s guilt or innocence. Nor does it play any part in coming up with an individual’s sentence. Instead, the grand jury hearing is about deciding whether or not a prosecutor should bring criminal charges against an individual. Unless a grand jury hearing is not necessary, this procedure is one of the first court procedures.
Typically, this type of hearing occurs for serious felony charges. The cases usually last for months at a time. However, they tend to only last for a few days each month.
The Difference Between a Grand Jury and Preliminary Hearing
In many cases, the court chooses not to use a grand jury hearing. Instead, the court uses a preliminary hearing. Much like a grand jury, this type of hearing occurs before criminal trial. Also similar to the grand jury, a preliminary hearing determines whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to indict a suspect.
However, there are some critical differences between the two types of court proceedings. For one, the preliminary hearing is often open to the public. During the hearing, there are lawyers and a judge present. In a grand jury hearing, there is only the prosecutor and the jury members.
In some states, the suspect can appear before the jury in a grand jury proceeding. However, some states, like Massachusetts and Rhode Island, do not allow such a right. Whether or not you have the right to appear before a jury depends on your location. Meanwhile, preliminary hearings do allow for the suspects to appear before the juries.
Another key difference between the two processes is the need to request a preliminary hearing. If a suspect does not request it, then it won’t happen. It is possible for a judge to deny a request for this type of hearing.
What Circumstances Result in Grand Jury Hearings?
There are several reasons why a court might decide to hold a grand jury hearing. However, those reasons tend to vary by state. For example, Massachusetts courts use the grand jury procedure to get indictments on all felonies from the Superior Court. However, Rhode Island does not require a grand jury indictment for felony charges. Instead, Rhode Island courts use grand juries to get indictments on capital offenses. This means that they could use a grand jury for a case that can result in as much as one lifetime jail sentence.
No matter where you live, it takes a serious charge to call for a grand jury. Often, minor offenses do not merit such a procedure.
Understanding the Procedure
If your case requires a grand jury hearing, then you might have some worries. However, there is nothing to fear. The procedure is not as strict as a regular court procedure. Because there is no judge and there are no other lawyers, the hearing is simple.
A grand jury hearing usually starts with a prosecutor discussing the laws that he accuses you of breaking. Then, he shows them the evidence and allows them to hear testimony. During their testimony, witnesses and experts are under oath. Some witnesses seek legal representation before appearing in court.
Unlike a regular courtroom trial, there are no strict rules regarding evidence. The jury can see almost any evidence without any exclusions. The prosecution presents everything.
When a grand jury proceeding occurs, the proceedings are under lock and key. Unlike some court trials, no one can discuss any information about the case with the public. This allows the witnesses to speak up without fearing any consequences. Additionally, it serves as a protection for the defendant. If the jury does not indict, then no one will find out about the hearing. This protects the defendant’s reputation.
Making the Decision
After the jury hears all the evidence, they vote on whether or not they should indict. However, the indictment does not need to be unanimous. It needs to be either a 2/3 or 3/4 decision. Whether they need a 2/3 or 3/4 decision depends on your state. Different jurisdictions have different laws regarding juror agreement.
If the jury does decide not to indict, then the prosecutor can still choose to take the case to trial. Although this is uncommon, it is possible. If a prosecutor believes that her case is strong enough, then she might request a trial regardless of the grand jury.
What It Means for You
If a grand jury chooses to indict you, then it means that the prosecutor has a decent case against you. However, it does not mean that you are guilty. All it means is that the prosecutor will take your case to trial. When you and your lawyer go to court, you can still fight the charges.