About Grand Juries?

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, charges involving capital crimes under federal jurisdiction must be presented to a Grand Jury. The main purpose of a Grand Jury is to review the evidence presented by the prosecutor to see if there is sufficient evidence to try the accused. Evidence is only presented by the prosecutor, who must show all evidence, including any conflicting evidence, for review by the jury. Grand jurors are drawn from the same pool of potential jurors as other jury panels; usually between 16 and 23 people serve on a Grand Jury. However, unlike in a jury trial, grand jurors are not screened for biases or other disqualifying factors.

Grand Jury proceedings are held in secret, and the prosecutor, jurors, and stenographer are prohibited from disclosing what transpired during the Grand Jury proceedings, unless otherwise ordered by the court. However, the witnesses are not sworn to secrecy and can disclose whatever they wish. Normal rules of evidence do not apply to a Grand Jury investigation. There is no judge to rule on the admissibility of evidence, and defense lawyers do not cross-examine witnesses. The accused has the right to testify before the Grand Jury.

If the jury determines there is probable cause that the person committed the crime, they issue an indictment. This is a formal accusation that a person has committed a criminal offense. If an indictment is not issued, a prosecutor can technically try again later, meaning there is not double jeopardy in Grand Jury proceedings. But, this is rarely done due the expense and time of mounting a case before a Grand Jury.