You’re facing a grand jury: What does that mean?

If you’re suspected of a felony, particularly in a white collar criminal investigation, it’s very possible that you may eventually find yourself facing grand jury proceedings.

Understanding what that means is an important step in your own defense.

Grand juries do not determine guilt or innocence

Someone once famously said that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich,” and there’s some truth to that statement. The process is tilted pretty far in the prosecution’s favor because they have near-complete control over the proceedings.

Why? Because grand juries don’t decide guilt or innocence. They merely determine if there’s enough evidence to take a criminal case forward. While you may feel like you are on trial, the grand jury’s verdict is not necessarily a preview of what will come at trial.

Grand juries are held in private

Nobody, including prosecutors, are allowed to publicly discuss any part of the grand jury proceedings. The secrecy is supposed to encourage witnesses to speak freely and protect the reputation of potential defendants before they face any kind of actual charges.

While you can have an attorney represent you (and you should) from start to finish, your attorney may only be present in the hearing if a formal request is made and the prosecutor permits it. If not permitted inside the grand jury room, your attorney can remain nearby to answer your questions in private.

There are several possible outcomes of a grand jury

The grand jury can “no-bill,” or refuse to indict, if they think the prosecutor’s argument is flawed or the evidence is too weak. They can also issue a written indictment that may essentially mirror the prosecutor’s request for specific charges. The jury can also choose to indict on lesser charges if they believe the prosecutor is over-reaching.

If you’re facing the possibility of a grand jury for a federal crime, make no mistake: This situation is serious. Your next call should be to a criminal defense attorney here in Waco.