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A grand jury is comprised of a group of randomly chosen citizens whose duty it is to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to indict an individual or corporation on criminal charges. Grand jury duty involves listening to witnesses testify under oath and evaluating the evidence in order to determine if there is enough probable cause for a trial. The grand jury process is intended to protect against unfounded prosecutions.
A grand jury differs substantially from a petit jury, or trial jury. Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public. The only people who participate in the proceedings in front of a grand jury are the prosecutor and witnesses. The grand jurors remain anonymous, even to the judge and the defense attorney.
Unlike a petit jury that serves for the duration of a single trial and determines the outcome of that trial, a grand jury might serve for a few weeks or even several months, during which the grand jury will deliberate on many cases. Grand jurors must swear an oath of secrecy and cannot discuss the cases with anyone outside the grand jury room. This secrecy protects grand jurors and witnesses from being intimidated, retaliated against or harmed in any way. In addition, no inquiry is permitted to learn what took place during a grand jury’s deliberations or how the jury members voted, except upon order of the court.
During the grand jury proceedings, the prosecutor will present evidence and witnesses to the grand jury. It is the duty of the grand jury to analyze the evidence and witness testimony to determine whether a crime has been committed and whether there is sufficient evidence against the accused person to bring the case to trial. It is not part of the grand jury duty to determine guilt or innocence.
After hearing all of the evidence presented, the grand jury will deliberate in a private room. If the grand jury decides that a crime was committed and there is sufficient evidence that the person being investigated probably is guilty of the offense charged, then the grand jury will issue an indictment, which is a formal accusation. A grand jury does not need a unanimous vote in order to indict. All that is needed is a majority rule. For example, in a grand jury consisting of 23 jurors, just 12 votes are needed for an indictment.
The number of people on a grad jury can vary. In the United States, each state can set their own rules as to how many jurors will serve on a grand jury. Typically, a grand jury is composed of 16 to 23 people.
Grand jurors are randomly selected from a list of registered voters obtained by the court. The selected jurors are then sent a questionnaire to determine whether they are eligible for grand jury duty. People called for grand jury duty should contact the court if they have any specific questions, because grand jury proceedings will vary by court system.