What is the Purpose of the Federal Grand Jury?

May 30, 2023

The purpose of a federal grand jury is to investigate potential federal crimes and determine if there is sufficient evidence to bring charges (indict) against an individual. The grand jury operates as a screening mechanism to ensure that the government does not bring frivolous or baseless criminal charges. It also acts as a check on the power of the government by requiring it to present evidence and obtain the grand jury’s approval before pursuing a criminal case.

The use of a grand jury in the federal criminal justice system can be traced back to the common law traditions of England, where grand juries were used to investigate potential criminal activity and make recommendations for prosecution. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution enshrines the use of grand juries in the federal criminal justice system, stating that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”

The role of a federal grand jury is to investigate potential federal crimes, hear evidence presented by the government, and determine if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the accused person committed the crime. A grand jury is composed of 16 to 23 citizens who are selected at random from the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed. The grand jury operates in secret, and the proceedings are closed to the public.

The grand jury hears evidence presented by a federal prosecutor, who acts as the representative of the government. The prosecutor is responsible for presenting evidence that supports the indictment of the accused person and for answering any questions that the grand jury may have. The grand jury is not required to hear from the accused person or from any defense witnesses, as the purpose of the grand jury is to determine probable cause, not to determine guilt.

Once the grand jury has heard the evidence and considered the arguments presented by the government, it must decide if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the accused person committed the crime. If the grand jury finds probable cause, it will return an indictment, which is a formal charge against the accused person.

The use of a grand jury in the federal criminal justice system serves several important functions. First, it acts as a screening mechanism to ensure that the government does not bring frivolous or baseless criminal charges. By requiring the government to present evidence and obtain the approval of the grand jury before pursuing a criminal case, the grand jury serves as a check on the power of the government and helps to protect the rights of the accused.

Second, the grand jury helps to protect the rights of the accused by ensuring that the government has sufficient evidence to support a criminal charge. The grand jury process allows the government to test its evidence and arguments before proceeding with a criminal case, which helps to prevent the government from pursuing weak or baseless cases.

Third, the grand jury provides a means for citizens to participate in the criminal justice process. By serving on a grand jury, citizens can play a direct role in the investigation of potential criminal activity and in the decision to bring charges against an individual. This helps to ensure that the criminal justice system is accountable to the citizens and that it operates in a transparent and democratic manner.

Finally, the use of a grand jury can be seen as a way of balancing the power of the government and the rights of the accused. By requiring the government to present evidence and obtain the approval of the grand jury before pursuing a criminal case, the grand jury helps to ensure that the government acts in accordance with the rule of law and that the rights of the accused are protected.

If you are being investigated for a federal crime, then contact us today to speak with an experienced Orange County federal crimes attorney.

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