Grand jury

From Academic Kids

A grand jury is a type of common law jury; responsible for investigating alleged crimes, examining evidence, and issuing indictments. A grand jury is distinguished from a petit jury, which is used during trial and consists of 6 or 12 jurors (plus alternates).

A grand jury can compel witnesses to testify. During the proceeding, the defendant and his or her counsel are generally not present. The grand jury's decision is either "true bill" or "no true bill." Where they exist, grand juries are part of the system of checks and balances that prevents a case from going to trial without an impartial panel of citizens first deciding whether there exists reasonable cause or probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed.

Most jurisdictions have abolished grand juries, replacing them with the preliminary hearing at which a Judge hears evidence concerning the alleged offenses and makes a decision on whether the prosecution can proceed. However, grand juries are still used in a number of US jurisdictions.

The United States

Charges involving "capital or infamous crimes" under federal jurisdiction must be presented to a grand jury, under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This has been interpreted to permit bypass of the grand jury for misdemeanor offenses, which can be charged by prosecutor's information.

Unlike many other provisions of the Bill of Rights, the Supreme Court has ruled that this requirement does not pertain to the state courts, and states are therefore free to abolish grand juries.

Criticism of the Grand Jury

Some argue that the grand jury is unjust as the defendant is not represented by counsel and/or does not have the right to call witnesses.

In practice, a grand jury rarely acts in a manner contrary to the wishes of the prosecutor and as such many jurisdictions in the United States have replaced the formality of a grand jury with a procedure in which the prosecutor can issue charges by filing an information (also known as an accusation) which is followed by a preliminary hearing before a Judge at which both the defendant and his or her counsel are present.

In all U.S. jurisdictions retaining the grand jury, the defendant has the privilege under the Fifth Amendment not to give self-incriminating testimony. However, the prosecutor can call the defendant to testify and require the defendant to assert the privilege on a question-by-question basis, which is prohibited in jury trials unless the defendant has voluntarily testified on his own behalf. Other evidentiary rules applicable to trials (such as the hearsay rule) are generally not applicable to grand jury


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