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How does a grand jury work?

On Behalf of | Sep 6, 2018 | Firm News |

York County prosecutors had a busy month last June. The elevated overall numbers for the month were likely due to just one day when there were 904 indictments. That number for just one day doubled any previous month’s total for 2018. To reach that many indictments in one month, meant that the average time for each indictment in June was just 39 seconds.

Due to the number of indictments and the time constraints involved for each one, a group of defense lawyers from York County claim the grand jury was not able to adequately review each case and they want every indictment for the month of June tossed out. However, the top prosecutor for York County said there is no evidence to show the grand jury did not properly review the cases.

What is a grand jury?

A grand jury has an important role when it comes to the criminal process, but this type of jury does not hand out verdicts of guilty and not-guilty. A grand jury consists of 16 to 23 people that a prosecutor works with to decide if there should be an indictment or criminal charge made against a defendant. A grand jury is usually used for serious felonies.

What is the difference between a grand jury and preliminary hearing?

Even though each state has laws that allow for the use of grand juries, they are not used in about half the states. Instead, courts use preliminary hearings. Just like a grand jury, a preliminary hearing is used to determine if there is enough cause or evidence for an indictment. A grand jury is not open to the public and is usually just the prosecutor and the grand jury. A preliminary hearing can be open to the public and includes lawyers and a judge.

What happens in a grand jury preceding

A grand jury preceding is usually a more relaxed gathering that what would take place in a normal court room. The grand jury will hear from the prosecutor who will explain the laws and provide evidence and testimony. A grand jury will have more freedom to view evidence and testimony which is not the case with a trial jury who is under more strict rules. Grand jury proceeding are kept in confidence which allows witnesses to speak freely and it will protect the defendant if there is no indictment.

Grand jury decisions

A unanimous decision by a grand jury is not needed for an indictment, in most jurisdictions there only needs to be a supermajority of either 2/3 or 3/4 agreement. A prosecutor can still bring a defendant to trial regardless of what a grand jury decides, but the proceedings of a grand jury can be very useful for prosecutors and can move the process faster to trial if the grand jury moves for indictment.