Dallas Criminal Attorney Educates – What Is a Grand Jury?
Just about everyone is familiar with the concept of a jury. Generally speaking, a jury consists of a group of people from the community who consider all the evidence in a case and, using jury instructions from the court, determine whether the prosecutor has proved that a defendant is guilty of committing a crime. In Texas, juries in district courts have 12 members. In county courts, probate courts, and municipal courts, juries are made up of six people. At the federal level, most juries consist of 12 members.
But what about grand juries? For many people, a grand jury is something of a mysterious concept. There is a good reason for this, as much of what a grand jury does takes place outside the public eye. If you are notified that you have been subpoenaed by a grand jury, or you have agreed to appear before a grand jury, it is a good idea to work with a criminal defense lawyer who has experience with grand juries says Dallas Criminal lawyer Mick Mickelsen
Grand Juries Explained
Like a trial jury, a grand jury is also made up of people drawn from the surrounding community. The members of a grand jury aren’t personally any different from people called to serve on a regular jury.
Unlike a trial jury, however, a grand jury is asked to decide whether a prosecutor should file criminal charges against an individual. In most cases, a grand jury consists of 23 people — almost double the size of a typical trial jury.
The members of a grand jury have a great deal of contact with the prosecutor. For example, the grand jury can consult with the prosecutor if they have questions about the law or particular evidence they are asked to consider.
Generally, the rules that govern grand juries are more flexible and less stringent than the rules that govern trial juries. The reason is that a grand jury is charged with indicting someone for a crime rather than convicting someone.
Another different between a grand jury and a trial jury is that grand jury proceedings are kept very private. The idea behind this is that witnesses who appear before the grand jury and offer testimony should have every incentive to tell the whole truth.
Additionally, grand jury proceedings are private because there is a public interest in making sure that individuals who are ultimately not indicted maintain their privacy.
It is also worth noting that the prosecutor isn’t necessarily bound by the grand jury’s decision whether to indict or bring charges. If the prosecutor has a good reason to think his or her case is strong, the prosecutor may decide to go ahead with charges even if the grand jury chooses not to indict or bring charges.
Do You Have a Right to Counsel in a Grand Jury Proceeding?
The rules that govern grand juries are quite different from what most people are used to when it comes to appearing in court. If you’re called to testify before a grand jury as a witness, you aren’t entitled to any type of warning about your rights, such as the right against self-incrimination. At the same time, anything you say in front of the grand jury can later be used against you in court.
Additionally, you are not entitled to have a lawyer with you in the courtroom when you appear before the grand jury. However, the law does permit you to consult with a lawyer outside the hearing room. For example, you might be able to step into the hallway to ask your lawyer a question, but your lawyer isn’t allowed to be present when the grand jury asks you questions.
Immunity in Grand Jury Proceedings
In some cases, witnesses agree to testify before a grand jury in exchange for receiving immunity from prosecution. Immunity means that the prosecutor agrees not to file charges against the witness, even if that person is most likely guilty of committing a crime.
Generally, a prosecutor agrees to offer immunity to an individual because they believe that person’s testimony could help convict someone farther up the chain — someone who has committed even more egregious offenses.
In most cases, however, a prosecutor doesn’t offer blanket immunity. It is very important for individuals who want to negotiate a deal with a prosecutor to understand exactly what is being offered.
This is why it’s generally a good idea to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. If you make a mistake during negotiations with a prosecutor, it could result in a loss of freedom and your reputation. Grand jury proceedings may be less formal than jury trials, but they can result in serious criminal charges. In short, a grand jury proceeding is not something to be taken lightly under any circumstances.
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