The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 10-27-2004, 02:05 PM
paperbackwriter paperbackwriter is offline
Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Connecticut
Posts: 1,698
what level of "proof" is required for a grand Jury indictment?

Or in other terms: What does a prosecutor have to demonstrate to the Grand Jury and how convincing does he need to be? It's less than "beyond reasonable doubt", is it less than "preponderance of the evidence"? It's more stringent than probable cause, correct?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 10-27-2004, 03:09 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: A better place to be
Posts: 26,718
We have men and women in the criminal justice system who can give a more terminologically exact answer than mine, but pending their posting, here's the idea:

The Grand Jury serves to indict for felonies. They may also bring down an indictment on a misdemeanor if that seems the appropriate thing to do, but (in jurisdictions which have retained it, including the Federal government) no felony prosecution may proceed without a grand jury indictment.

The point behind this is that felons lose a significant share of their civil rights -- permanently, not merely for the duration of their sentence. Therefore, the weapon of a felony charge would be very tempting to a venal prosecutor against his political opponents.

So the grand jury exists as a means whereby you as a prosecutor must convince 12 out of 23 persons that there are sufficient grounds to bring the person charged with a crime to trial on a felony charge. It does not require that you show sufficient grounds to convict him, merely that a reasonable man would see it likely to suspect him of having committed the felony based on the evidence at hand. It's sort of the reverse of "beyond a reasonable doubt" in the actual trial process -- this merely requires "reasonable cause to proceed." In other words, a very low standard is present -- but the fact that there is a standard at all means that some degree of evidence linking the accused to the crime must be present, or no indictment will issue.

The misdemeanor qualification comes in because the grand jury may determine that there are not grounds to, e.g., charge the accused with felony assault as it's defined in law, but grounds to charge him with misdemeanor assault, where the standards are not quite as severe.

For each case presented to it, the grand jury brings a "true bill" which gives rise to an indictment for a felony (or, rarely for a misdemeanor, as explained), or a "no bill" which means that the person may not be prosecuted for that charge (at least as a felony; some jurisdictions allow proceeding on a misdemeanor charge even after a no bill).
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 10-27-2004, 03:12 PM
Gfactor Gfactor is offline
of the Gladiators
Moderator
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Detroit
Posts: 9,491
Quote:
Originally Posted by paperbackwriter
Or in other terms: What does a prosecutor have to demonstrate to the Grand Jury and how convincing does he need to be? It's less than "beyond reasonable doubt", is it less than "preponderance of the evidence"? It's more stringent than probable cause, correct?
Probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and the defendant did it.

http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov/jury/faq.html

Sometimes the verbal formula is a little different. Apparently, in CA, the Grand Jury indicts on strong suspicion.

http://grandjury.countyofventura.org/complaints.html
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 10-27-2004, 03:13 PM
Bricker Bricker is offline
And Full Contact Origami
SDSAB
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 45,847
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gfactor
Probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and the defendant did it.

http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov/jury/faq.html
What GFactor said.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 10-27-2004, 06:46 PM
medstar medstar is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: Alexandria, Va
Posts: 2,528
what level of "proof" is required for a grand Jury indictment?

There's a saying that I've heard that a good prosecutor can get a grand jury to, "indict a ham sandwich", if he/she were so inclined. That suggests to me that many grand juries are just rubberstamping prosecutor's decisions. Is that a fair assessment?
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 10-27-2004, 06:52 PM
Bricker Bricker is offline
And Full Contact Origami
SDSAB
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Northern Virginia
Posts: 45,847
Quote:
Originally Posted by medstar
There's a saying that I've heard that a good prosecutor can get a grand jury to, "indict a ham sandwich", if he/she were so inclined. That suggests to me that many grand juries are just rubberstamping prosecutor's decisions. Is that a fair assessment?
Well, since the level of proof required for a grand jury to indict is merely "probable cause," the prosecutor does not face a heavy burden. There is also no unanimity requirement: 3/4s of the grand jury is enough to return a true bill. Finally, the presentation can be a bit one-sided: the prosecutor merely presents his case. The accused does not have a right to question the witnesses called, and may not even have the opportunity to testify in his own defense. It's generally considered unwise for a criminal defendant to testify in front of the grand jury, just as it's unwise to testify at a probable cause hearing.

- Rick
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 08:40 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.