What the Heck Is a Grand Jury?

Law Blog

One of the weirder aspects of criminal law for accused people is defining the concept of the grand jury. It's a pre-trial process that stands at odds with the broader cultural perception of juries being a trial thing. If you're the subject of an investigation that's being put in front of a grand jury, it can be helpful to learn a bit about what one is and why this is happening.


One reason you'll be scared into calling a criminal defense attorney when being subject to a grand jury investigation is that grand juries are conducted in secret. Only the prosecution presents anything, and the only people asking questions are the jurors—in writing. Prosecutors say this allows witnesses to open up, but it also backfire in some cases.

Why Does This Happen?

There are alternative ways to do an indictment. An arrest indictment can be done using a police officer's affidavit, such as might follow an arrest for a fight. Preliminary hearings can also be done in front of a judge. Grand juries are usually convened to keep things secret, especially when prosecutors are going after organized groups of people.

Grand Jury Composition

Jurors are selected the same way that jurors for trials are chosen. People come to jury selection, and they are asked a few questions about their potential biases before they are impaneled. Depending on the jurisdiction the case is being investigated in, the jury will be made up of between 12 and 23 people.

The Goal

A grand jury is convened to look at whether there is probable cause to move forward with a criminal case. The big difference between it and the type of jury you're probably familiar with is that the question is only whether the state has a strong enough case. The allegations do not have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt because that is what a subsequent trial is for.

One of two things will come out of a grand jury. Either the case will be dismissed, or an indictment will be filed. The indictment is the state case against a person, outlining what they're accused of and some of the supporting evidence. Notably, most states do not require a unanimous finding for a grand jury indictment. Instead, only a quorum is necessary. This is a set number out of a total, such as 9 out of 12.

Learn more about grand juries and how they fit in your case by contacting local criminal law firms. 


6 December 2019