What Is a Grand Jury?

A grand jury consists of 19 citizens who are called for jury duty. The purpose of a grand jury is completely different than that of a trial jury. The job of a trial jury is to render a verdict in a criminal trial, while the job of a grand jury is to determine if charges should be brought against a person accused of committing a crime.

The grand jury works closely with prosecutors and has the authority to see evidence and interrogate witnesses involved in the case. A grand jury also doesn’t have to reach a unanimous decision to issue an indictment. Generally, prosecutors will work with grand juries in serious felony cases to determine whether or not criminal charges should be brought against a potential defendant.

Are Grand Jury Proceedings Different than Trial Proceedings?

Comparatively, grand juries are more relaxed than trial proceedings. In most cases, there isn’t a judge a presiding, so only the prosecutor and lawyer are present. The prosecutor explains the law to the jury. Together, the prosecutor and grand jury hear testimony and gather evidence in the case.

When it comes to evidence, testimony, and exhibits, there aren’t strict rules for how these are presented like in a courtroom. Members of the jury can hear or see whatever they believe is relevant to the matter at hand. Grand jury proceedings also are kept in strict confidence to ensure the reputation of the suspect is protected and witnesses feel they can speak freely without fear of retaliation.

Is a Grand Jury Different Than a Preliminary Hearing?

Preliminary hearings occur before the trial for a criminal case. Like grand juries, the purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine if there is probable cause and enough evidence to indict a suspect on criminal charges. However, unlike grand juries, preliminary hearings are usually open to the public and involve attorneys for both the prosecution and defendant. Additionally, a preliminary hearing must be requested by the defendant and can be denied by the court at its discretion. This is not the case when it comes to a grand juries.

What Are the Duties and Powers of a Grand Jury?

In California, a grand jury functions as a whole body, so no individual juror has the authority to act alone. Grand jury meetings are not open to the public and the matters under discussion or up for a vote must remain confidential. Grand juries have the power of subpoena and also have the authority to conduct hearings to determine if there is enough evidence to charge a suspect with a public offense.

Under California law, grand juries are required to do the following:

  • Discuss the management and condition of public prisons in the county
  • Inquire into corrupt or willful misconduct of public officers
  • Investigate and report on accounts, records, and operations of county officers, departments, or functions
  • Submit reports of findings and recommendations to the presiding judge of the Superior Court before the end of the grand jury term

What Is a Supermajority of Agreement?

In order to indict a person on criminal charges, the grand jury needs to reach a supermajority of agreement, not a unanimous decision. The supermajority must be a 2/3 or 3/4 agreement to indict. If a grand jury decides not to indict a suspect, the prosecutor can still decide to bring charges against that person if they believe they have a strong enough case and prove to the court that there is enough evidence to proceed with trial.

Are you facing criminal charges? If so, call Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP today at (800) 462-7160 or contact us online to request a case consultation with our criminal defense attorneys.