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What is a grand jury and what does it rule on?

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.

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