One of the main questions people have about a grand jury is how it works. Adam M Smith understands this confusion. Men and women from every district are picked at random, and tensions run high every June when new selections are made. Meanwhile, the grand jury is a secret court, which adds to the confusion. However, the system does make sense.
Adam M Smith on How Grand Juries Operate
The judicial system is, by and large, public and open but the grand jury is not. Rather, they are made up of groups of individuals to work alongside prosecutors helping to determine whether sufficient evidence is present to determine “probably cause”. The grand jury also has its own set of powers, such as being able to subpoena a witness who does not want to come forward. It can even subpoena withheld documents.
Additionally, it is up to the grand jury to tell a prosecutor whether their case is strong enough. Based on this, it will be determined whether or not something should go to trial. While the grand jury does not concern itself with determining guilt, it would be unlikely for a jury to find someone guilty if a grand jury were to think there is no probably cause. As such, the grand jury is both an offensive and a defensive mechanism. They are there to ensure that the right people are indicted but that the innocent walk free as well.
Anyone on a grand jury sits on it for as long as 18 months and they often work on multiple cases. They meet whenever they need to, depending on the case, often outside of working hours. The prosecutor is responsible for questioning the witnesses, but the jurors are permitted to ask their own questions. Usually, they are paid for each day they actually work.
The Secrecy of the Grand Jury
One of the things that people have against a grand jury is that they are very secretive. Indeed, nobody knows when and where they meet. The rooms are also sealed, with only the witnesses, their attorneys, the prosecutor, a court reporter, and the juror being present. Sometimes, a special investigator can be called in. Everyone is first sworn to secrecy. This is done for two main reasons. Firstly, it is to protect the identity of those who may be indicted, thereby guaranteeing that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Secondly, it is to ensure that reluctant witnesses are encouraged to speak freely and to speak the truth.
What Can a Grand Jury Do?
A grand jury can do two things:
- They can hand up a true bill, meaning they indict the defendant for all or parts of the investigation. This means a trial will follow.
- They can decline to indict, which means there is no case against the defendant.
In the latter situation, it is still possible for an indictment to happen at a later stage, for instance if more evidence is uncovered.