grand jury | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

A grand jury is a jury, usually composed of 23 jurors, that is tasked with determining if the state has enough evidence to hold a criminal trial.

A grand jury is a unique type of jury that is tasked with evaluating whether there is sufficient evidence to indict a suspect and hold a criminal trial. Unlike a traditional trial jury, which is responsible for determining the guilt or innocence of a defendant, a grand jury is responsible for evaluating the evidence presented by the prosecution and determining whether there is probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed a crime.

Grand juries are typically composed of 16 to 23 jurors who are selected from the same pool of potential jurors as traditional trial jurors. Grand jurors are often required to serve for a longer period of time than traditional jurors, and they are typically tasked with evaluating multiple cases over the course of their service.

During a grand jury proceeding, the prosecution presents evidence and witness testimony in support of their case against the defendant. The grand jurors are responsible for evaluating this evidence and determining whether there is sufficient probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crime in question. The grand jury may also have the power to issue subpoenas to compel witness testimony or the production of additional evidence.

If the grand jury determines that there is sufficient evidence to support an indictment, they will issue a formal charge against the defendant. This charge, known as an indictment, will be used to initiate a criminal trial against the defendant. If they determine that there is insufficient evidence to support an indictment, the case will not move forward to trial.

One of the unique aspects of this system is that it operates in secret. This means that grand jury proceedings are not open to the public, and the identities of the grand jurors are typically kept confidential. This is intended to protect the privacy of the grand jurors and to ensure that they are able to make their determinations free from outside influence or pressure.

The grand jury system has been the subject of some controversy in recent years, with critics arguing that it can be used by prosecutors to secure indictments even in cases where there is insufficient evidence to support a conviction at trial. Others argue that the secrecy of the grand jury system can lead to abuses of power and undermine the transparency of the criminal justice system.

Despite these criticisms, the grand jury system remains an important part of the criminal justice system in many jurisdictions. By providing a mechanism for evaluating the strength of the prosecution’s case before a trial begins, the grand jury system helps to ensure that criminal trials are fair, efficient, and based on solid evidence.

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Last Modified: 06/29/2021


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