Grand Jury

A friend just recently started a 90 day stretch as a grand juror in DC. That is a long time, and they have a lot of people. How many grand juries are run simultaneously in a place the size of DC?

As many as they need to handle the load, I would imagine. Restricted, of course, by logistics of available room, etc.

May I add more related questions to this OP’s question?

What, exactly, does a Grand Jury do? Or, more to my point: What knowledge or competence does one need to be on a Grand Jury, and thus to do what a Grand Juror does?

One often reads news articles about Grand Juries investigating deeply detailed technical stuff, as in municipal finances or the activities of various public and quasi-public agencies, and making recommendations (or even indictments) based on their findings.

Yes I also know (or think I know) that Grand Juries are composed of citizen volunteers. Can just about anyone do this? Or does it take knowledgeable lawyers and/or engineers and/or doctors and/or other skilled professionals to do Grand Jury investigations?

The example you are giving is for a specially convened Grand Jury for a specific purpose. That is done under unusual circumstances. That is not what almost all Grand Juries are.

Speaking generally from my experience with many Grand Juries over the years it basically goes like this. They meet once a week during the time period they serve. The county prosecutor presents many cases during each day. Rarely is more than a half hour taken on each case. One most cases one or two witnesses are called at most. Rules against hearsay are different. For instance an officer can testify about what another person told him. The prosecutor does not have to present the entire case but of course all of it is presented under oath and must be truthful. All that is needed is a finding of probable cause for the charges and the Grand Jury hands down the indictment. In our court the Grand Jury is allowed to ask the witnesses questions directly which they are never allowed to do during trial. Only in extremely rare cases does the defense present any evidence. I have never seen it.

Tldr: the Grand Jury determines if there is probable cause for a felony indictment.

In my state, you get selected for grand jury service the same way you get selected for regular jury duty.

The grand jury doesn’t usually do much actual investigating. That’s done by law enforcement, who present their findings to the grand jury through a Prosecutor who calls the investigators to testify.

Essentially, as a grand juror in my state, you mostly sit in a big room and listen to a parade of witnesses lay out the prosecution’s case, and then you vote on whether you think there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed by the person or entity accused.

I served on a Federal Grand Jury in Los Angeles a few years ago. We were empaneled for one year and served for one day each week, but if one’s employer did not pay for unlimited service one was released at the end of the time they were paid for. I worked for a school district and had unlimited service. At the end of the year we were re-upped for six months. We would probably have been kept beyond that if there were alternates left but we had used up all the alternates. I think we began with like 60 people; 26 were on the panel at any one time I think. By the end it was mostly government employees and postal workers left.

What we did is very much as **Oakminster **described it. Some of it was very interesting (we had one spy/sex case) and some deadly (three or four weeks of listening to the dullest IRS employee ever). All in all I enjoyed the experience. Luckily I had a job that I could pretty much do in four days each week (this is govt. work, remember) so I didn’t really inconvenience my employer very much.

ETA I think in California the selection process is much like regular jury duty, but getting out of it was a lot harder. Even one woman who barely spoke English was required to serve. They had us all in a huge meeting room and called names and put us in groups. If you wanted out you had to go up and beg, and as far as I could see nobody got out.

Is this true of all felonies (in the jurisdictions affected)? I thought the DA’s office decided whether to take a case to trial, at least some of the time. That’s certainly what seems to happen on TV cop shows (the ones that show anything about trials).

IANAL, but as I understand it:

The role of a Grand Jury is to indict a ham sandwich if the prosecutor says to. Or at least, that’s the common wisdom. :slight_smile:

Seriously, when there is some doubt or the prosecutor wants to confirm that there is enough evidence to proceed, a grand jury indictment basically confirms this. What it seems to actually be used for, is to “go fish”.
People can be hauled in front of a grand jury, the person(s) being “investigated” (considered for indictment) must testify although they can take the fifth, the questionable or uncooperative witnesses can be forced to testify thereby committing their story to record on penalty of perjury, and so on. The jury only hears the details the prosecutor wants them to hear, then decides based on those details whether there’s enough grounds for an inidctment. The prospective defendant and his lawyer have no right to present their side.

You can refuse to answer the police’s questions, but you cannot refuse to testify to a grand jury unless you take the fifth. If a witness takes the fifth then that gives the prosecutor the option to decide if they want to offer you an immunity deal - once they give you immunity, you cannot use the fifth and MUST testify in court. (As I understand it, once they extend you immunity, it’s not a deal so much as a unilateral move. You have no choice if immunity is given).

One commentary on Grand Juries that I read about said they were considered such a gross violation of basic rights that the USA is the only country in the British-derived legal system that still uses them (at all? On a regular basis?)

I disagree with that last statement. The GJ system prevents prosecution when there is simply no evidence, or not enough evidence to convict. The GJ I served on did, in fact, vote “no bill” on a few cases. In at least one of those, the prosecution was really miffed, and it was a split vote. In another, we not only refused to indict, but suggested to the prosecution that a different person involved in the incident SHOULD be charged.

The other interesting thing about GJ proceedings is that they are supposed to be 100% confidential, forever. This means that the people for whom the GJ returned “no bill” have absolutely nothing on their records.

I thought that the experience was quite interesting.

Thanks, everybody, for all the above. I didn’t know much of that. I especially didn’t know that Grand Jurors are conscripted in some places. For one day a week for a whole year? Like, 50 days? That the employer is expected to pay for? Even if no speaka de English? Dang.

But I confess, it was a bit of a hijack. (Or should I have taken the 5th on that?) Somebody, don’t forget to answer the OP’s original question now!

So there’s a “special kind” of Grand Jury for the technical cases? Do they do investigations? One hears, for example, fo a Grand Jury studying, say, the Public School system for 6 months and then issuing a massive report full of problems discovered and recommendations – but not necessarily any indictments. That sounds like a “fishing expedition” (as in, dig a bit and find all the problems you can), but for the purpose of recommending and not indicting. So some Grand Juries do that too?

How, then, are those kinds of Grand Juries empaneled? Are these the kind of Jurors that I envisioned in my Post #3?

“Conscripted” is a harsh word. It’s not as if they don’t get to go home at night. Well, occasionally a jury is sequestered, but that’s actually quite rare. All citizens are subject to jury duty requirements, both Grand and Petit. However, there are exceptions. For example, anyone who is the primary caregiver for a small child can get excused. Also people over a certain age, or with certain disabilities. I don’t think you could be required to serve if you are deaf or blind, for example. If you don’t get an automatic exception you can plead your case to a judge on the first day you’re required to appear. Sometimes people get excused then.

Also, if you have a previously paid for trip, whether for business or pleasure, you can ask for your service to be postponed.

The above is true in NJ, based on my personal and family experience.

There is usually a token payment.

I loved being on jury duty and considered it a privilege and a civic duty.

In my state the DA makes the determination as to if the case goes in front of a grand jury. For lower level felonies the DA can decide to send it to the GJ on the way to a trial at the county level or send it down to municipal court to be heard at that level. Cases heard at the municipal level do not need to go in front of a grand jury.


To be honest I just left it open as a possibility. I have never seen or heard of anything like that happening in real life.

Here every grand jury I know was subpoenaed just like a petit jury.

I recently applied to be on the Sacramento County Grand Jury (didn’t make it, but that’s a different story). All of the members are volunteers, and there is a bit of vetting that occurs. You have to answer a multi-page questionnaire and then meet with members of the current Grand Jury (they serve staggered shifts of two years, I believe) who then ask you questions.

This grand jury investigates whatever members of the grand jury think need to be investigated, or that is brought to their attention by county officials, whistleblowers, or just general members of the public. Such as mismanagement of county funds, improper use of public facilities, whatever comes to their attention. At the end of the investigation, they produce a report and publish it, then send the report to the press and to the DA for further investigation and the possibility of action.

Yeah, everything in this post is what I thought “that other kind” of Grand Jury is like: All volunteers, doing investigations, “fishing expeditions” for the purpose of producing a report. Plus, the Grand Jury itself chooses things to investigate.

Have there ever been cases of jury nullification by a Grand Jury? Could a hostile Grand Jury delay or maybe even prevent the prosecution of a “crystal clear” criminal case?

But would the prosecutor need to bring a “crystal clear” criminal case to a Grand Jury? Couldn’t he just prosecute straight away?

Then I guess it wasn’t cyrstal clear. Of course with all these types of questions we get into the issue of differences between each state so we have to talk about generalities. Generally a grand jury indicts with a simple majority. An anonymous verdict is not needed. Voting on the facts is one thing. I would think that getting a majority to vote against a law on moral grounds or whatever is another. Jury nullification works because in a trial all you need is one person to disagree with the law.

Depends on the state.

OK, so what criteria are used/needed to proceed with a grand jury rather than directly to trial? Is it the level of crime, the whim of the prosecutor, the desire to avoid accusations of persecution by having the indictment come from an allegedly independent body?

The point with a grand jury (from what I hear) is that the prosecutor presents only the evidence he wants to present. There is no provision for any person under consideration for indictment to have a lawyer present (indeed, the proceedings are secret), present their own evidence in rebuttal, and no requirement for the prosecutor to present the whole truth.

Hence the joke about the ham sandwich. When you only hear one side, and only some parts, it’s not difficult to say “yeah, there’s enough there to proceed to trial”. Remember, it’s about enough evidence to proceed to trial, not “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”.

I served on a Grand Jury in Manhattan several years ago. We met every day, Mon-Fri, for the entire month of February, from 10am-1pm. (There was a small stipend provided for each day, but nothing even close to make up for people who had to take off work. Being that I am salaried and work late anyway, it didn’t affect me at all, but there was a lot of dissent from those who worked hourly 9-5.) I think we ended up hearing around 60 cases, most of which were drug offenses and petty thefts, however we did hear a few assault, murder and even child porn cases (of which they had to show us the [extremely graphic] images.)

I was picked the same way as regular jury duty, the only difference is that we all knew before selection that it would be set for an entire month. I remember that we only returned a “no bill” decision once and that there was one case that had everyone deadlocked.

I think, at least in what I saw, that many of the people on the grand jury tended to behave like the trial juries they’ve seen on TV in movies, and spent way too much time deliberating on a person’s actual guilt or innocence, instead of just deciding if there was enough evidence to go to trial.

I’d agree, Eyebrows, that people tended to try to look for innocence or guilt instead of if there is sufficient evidence. The jury foreperson kept dragging that conversation back where it belonged and eventually people got the idea. Took a while though; I can see that in a month that might not happen, or if the foreperson wasn’t on board it might not work. One of the weird things at the beginning was that we got little or not guidance in what we were supposed to do. We all felt a little at a loss and finally asked for help; one of the sitting judges in the court came and talked to us about what our job was, and that was very useful. I think federal is different too, and we had to get a handle on that.