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How Does a Grand Jury Work?

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on December 13, 2021

A grand jury is a body of 19 average citizens called for jury duty. It serves an entirely different purpose than a trial jury. While a trial jury renders a verdict in a criminal trial, the purpose of a grand jury is to determine whether charges should be brought against a suspect. Grand juries work closely with prosecutors and have the power to view evidence and interrogate witnesses. They do not have to be unanimous to issue an indictment (formal charge or accusation of a serious crime). Usually in serious felony cases, prosecutors work with grand juries to determine whether to bring criminal charges against a potential defendant.

What Are Grand Jury Proceedings Like?

Grand juries are more relaxed than typical courtroom proceedings. No judge is presiding, and in many cases, the prosecutor is the only lawyer present. The prosecutor explains the law to the jury. Together, the prosecutor and grand jury hear testimony and gather evidence in the case.

Normal strict courtroom rules regarding evidence, testimony, and exhibits do not apply to grand jury proceedings. Members of the jury can hear or see whatever they believe is relevant. Grand jury proceedings are kept in strict confidence to protect the reputation of suspects and to encourage witnesses to speak openly without fear of retaliation.

How Does a Grand Jury Differ From a Preliminary Hearing?

Preliminary hearings are held prior to trial in criminal cases. Like grand juries, preliminary hearings are held to determine if there is probable cause and enough evidence to indict a suspect on criminal charges. Unlike grand juries, preliminary hearings are generally open to the public and involve attorneys on both sides of the case – prosecution and defense. A preliminary hearing must be requested by the defendant, although the court may deny the request at its discretion. This is not the case with a grand jury.

What Are the Duties and Powers of a Grand Jury in California?

A grand jury in California functions as a body – no individual juror has any authority acting alone. Grand jury meetings are not open to the public and matters under discussion or vote are required to remain confidential. Under state law, grand juries are required to:

  • Inquire into 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 their findings and recommendations to the presiding judge of the Superior Court no later than the end of the grand jury term

Grand juries may also conduct hearings to determine if there is enough evidence to charge a suspect with a public offense. They have the power of subpoena.

How Does a Grand Jury Relate to Prosecutorial Discretion?

To indict a person on criminal charges, a grand jury needs a supermajority of agreement – the decision does not have to be unanimous. If a grand jury decides not to indict a suspect, the prosecutor can still bring charges against that person if he or she believes the case is strong enough to do so. Grand jury proceedings may serve as a test run of the case, but indictment is at the discretion of the prosecution. However, if the grand jury decides not to indict, the prosecutor must demonstrate to the court that there is enough evidence to proceed with trial. This step is not required if the grand jury votes to indict.

If you are facing criminal charges, call Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP at (213) 688-0460. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys have a history of success in the most challenging, high-profile cases.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense