A grand jury is different from the more commonly known jury trial. A grand jury is used to aid in determining whether criminal charges should be brought against a suspect in a given crime. When a grand jury is called, the prosecutor will work to explain the laws to the jury. The jurors here have broad discretion regarding evidence that can be obtained. They may also question any witnesses they feel need to testify at this time.
One may describe a grand jury hearing to be more relaxed than the more common jury trial. This increased flexibility comes from the fact that parties brought before the grand jury will typically not have attorneys present and many general rules of evidence are not required during grand jury proceedings.
Furthermore, grand jury proceedings are held in confidence and closed the public. This practice has allowed for witnesses to answer more candidly when questioned by the prosecutor. In addition, this confidential proceeding ensures that the suspect’s privacy will be protected if the grand jury determines that charges should not be brought against that suspect.
Keep in mind, however that the grand jury’s determination is not the final step in the process. Often times, prosecutors will employ the grand jury process as a means to execute a test-run for any future trials and will observe the grand jury proceeding closely and take note of any relevant information that may be helpful for the future jury trial. Lastly, a prosecutor may disagree with the grand jury and choose to ignore the grand jury’s interpretation of the facts.
Texas state law describes the relevant policies and procedures related to grand juries. To begin with, there are only certain individuals who are allowed in the grand jury room. These individuals include:
Related to the list of individuals who are allowed in the room during grand jury proceedings, is the element of recording certain testimony. When questions are asked to a witness by either the grand jury or the attorney, the responses shall be recorded through the use of a stenographer or an electronic recording. Once grand jury proceedings have concluded, the state’s attorney will keep the records, minus the stenographer’s notes.
As previously mentioned, grand jury proceedings are kept secret and confidential. Texas law has held that any individual who violates this policy shall incur penalties. For example, any juror, bailiff, interpreter, stenographer, or device operator who discloses anything transpiring before the grand jury, regardless of whether it is being recorded is punishable by a fine for as much as $500 and/or imprisonment for no more than 30 days.
While these proceedings are kept confidential, a defendant may petition the court for disclosure of information depending on the circumstances. Generally, this involves a judicial proceeding. This petition must be filed in the district court where the case is pending. A copy of the petition must be given to the attorney representing the state, all parties to the judicial proceedings, as well as any other individuals required by the court.
The attorney representing the state must follow guidelines as defined by Texas law. Under the law, the attorney may examine witnesses in front of the grand jury and must advise as to the proper method of interrogation. The only individuals permitted to question a witness are the attorney and jurors.
At no point may a person address the grand jury regarding a matter before the grand jury besides the attorney, a witness, or the suspected person. In rare situations, the suspected person’s attorney may be allowed to address the grand jury, as well.
When the grand jury desires advice pertaining to a matter of law, it may seek help from either the attorney representing the state and/or the court itself. These questions may be presented either orally or in writing.
The law also speaks to the proper execution of process. For example, the bailiff or other officer who receives process to be served from a grand jury must execute and return it to the foreman or district clerk, depending on whether grand jury is in session.
There may be situations in which a witness tries to evade process. In these cases, the witness may be fined for as much as $500 by the court. In addition, a witness may refuse to testify before the grand jury. If the court finds that the question asked is proper, the witness will be compelled to answer. This is generally done through a fine for as much as $500 or being put in jail until the witness agrees to testify.
Another issue that may come up is when an officer is summoned to testify but is unable to be present at the proceedings. Often times, the court will allow the officer to testify via video teleconferencing. Before beginning his testimony, the officer must acknowledge that no person other than a person in the grand jury room is capable of hearing the officer’s testimony and the officer’s testimony is not being recorded by a person at the officer’s location.
Once testimony has been completed, a vote will be taken regarding the presentment of an indictment. The determination made by the grand jury will be given to the attorney in order for a indictment to be written and prepared.
If you have been arrested on criminal charges and are seeking legal representation, contact a defense attorney who has the experience and qualifications necessary to provide you with the proper defense.