A federal grand jury is a powerful institution in the United States legal system, often working behind the scenes to investigate and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against an individual or entity.
According to the U.S. Courts, grand juries have 16-23 jurors who serve up to 24 months. These people are essential to the system, and understanding how this jury operates is important.
Convening the grand jury
The federal grand jury consists of a group of citizens chosen from the same pool as petit jurors, who sit in trial courts. But the responsibilities of grand jurors differ significantly. A grand jury’s function is investigative, not adjudicative.
Secrecy and confidentiality
The grand jury meets behind closed doors, and its proceedings are not open to the public or the media. This confidentiality encourages witnesses to speak candidly and protects the reputation of those under investigation if no charges arise.
The grand jury’s primary function is to investigate potential criminal activity. Federal prosecutors present evidence, documents and witness testimony. The jurors review this information and decide whether there is probable cause to believe a crime occurred. They do not determine guilt or innocence.
Grand jury indictments
If the grand jury believes there is sufficient evidence to support charges, they issue an indictment. An indictment is a formal accusation that initiates the criminal process. It outlines the charges against the accused and serves as the basis for a trial.
No adversarial process
Unlike a trial, where both the prosecution and defense present their cases, the grand jury operates without an adversarial process. This means that only the prosecution presents evidence, and the accused does not have the opportunity to show their side of the story. It is a one-sided process focused solely on determining whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
The federal grand jury is a crucial component of the criminal justice system, serving as a check on the government’s power to bring criminal charges. Understanding the workings of the federal grand jury helps shed light on an often mysterious aspect of the American legal system.