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“What You Should Know About Grand Juries”

CRIMINAL DEFENSE FORUM

By: Mark Eiglarsh

Introduction

The grand jury has been called both a sword and shield of justice –– a sword because it is a terror to criminals, a shield because it is protection of the innocent against unjust prosecution. Our constitution provides that no person shall be brought to trial for a capital crime except upon indictment of a grand jury. This means that no one may be prosecuted for a capital crime except by a vote of the grand jury. Given their tremendous power and controversial recent indictments such as the one handed down recently in the case against Casey Anthony, one might ask just who are these grand jurors?

Who Are These Grand Jurors?

Grand jurors are United States citizens and legal residents of this state and their respective counties who are at least 18 years of age and who possess a driver's license, identification card or who execute an affidavit indicating a desire to serve as a juror. Only individuals convicted of a felony (or misdemeanors involving mistrust) and government officials are disqualified. All jurors are selected at random and their names are taken from lists prepared by the clerk of the circuit court. The grand jury consists of 15 but no more than 21 members and lasts for a period of 12 months. The grand jury does not try a case based on innocence or guilt and rarely hears both sides. Its function is simply to hear witnesses as to a charge of crime, by the State, and to determine whether the person, or persons, so charged should be brought to trial. Most of the work of the grand jury involves hearing witnesses and determining the sufficiency of evidence on the issue of whether that evidence, without regard to possible defenses, justifies indictment. The grand jury may call any witness it deems appropriate and necessary. A witness is permitted to be represented before the grand jury by one attorney. However, the attorney may not address the grand jurors, raise objections, or make arguments.

Once all evidence has been submitted to the grand jury, they deliberate and determine whether to indict the accused or return a no true bill (allowing the accused to avoid charges). These proceedings are done in complete secrecy and Grand jurors are fully protected from actions against them by being an independent body answerable to no one except the court that empanels it. Some have called the grand jury, "One of the most independent bodies known to the law." However, with almost no accountability it becomes almost impossible to see that these powers are not being perverted, abused or misguided.