Most people think of juries, if they think of them at all, as the last essential part of the promise of justice in America. A person's right to let fellow citizens rule on a legal dispute is a cornerstone of trust in the courts. But a certain type of jury is important in deciding whether charges may be filed in the first place.
What is the purpose of a grand jury?
A grand jury does not rule on a person's or organization's guilt. It is a secret proceeding involving jurors who vote on whether the evidence against a person under federal or state laws is sufficient to allow the prosecution to charge the defendants.
When is a grand jury asked to rule on a prosecutor's accusations?
That depends on the charges and the jurisdiction. Federal grand juries rule on many federal charges, which are usually connected to an investigation handled at least in part by a federal law enforcement agency. Georgia often impanels grand juries to rule on serious criminal charges, involving kidnapping, rape or murder.
Who can serve on a grand jury in Georgia?
The letter of the law describes "upstanding individuals," but the only requirements are citizens over the age of 18 without a felony conviction may serve on grand juries. There is no jury selection process, so jurors are completely random.
Is a defendant's lawyer involved in grand jury proceedings?
Grand juries are convened in secret, so a defendant and lawyer would not be informed until they are out of session. A person should consult with an attorney on legal representation if a prosecutor has filed or may file charges.