Most people assume that a Grand Jury is like a jury trial where a judge and a jury listen to evidence to decide a person’s guilt or innocence. Unfortunately, a Grand Jury proceeding is not at all like a jury trial. This process is controlled almost entirely by the district attorney. There is no judge and generally no defense attorney present in this proceeding. The district attorney alone controls the flow of evidence to the Grand Jury. In other words they decide what evidence the Grand Jurors hear and see.Do I Need an Attorney During This Process?
If your case is being presented to a Grand Jury, then that generally means that you have been accused of a felony offense and the Grand Jury is going to decide whether you will be officially prosecuted for that alleged offense. The seriousness of the situation dictates that you must have an attorney. A lawyer can work with you to investigate your case and determine if it can be successfully defended at the Grand Jury level. Successfully defending your case at this stage may mean that you are never formally charged with a crime.Will the Grand Jury Hear My Side?
Even though the district attorney controls the process, most district attorneys will present evidence to the Grand Jury that is provided by the defense. Your attorney will typically provide this evidence in the form of a packet or booklet. The district attorney may also allow an accused person to testify before the Grand Jury. This, however, is generally not a good idea. Remember, there is no judge present to insure fairness in the process, and the accused person’s attorney is not even allowed to be present when they testify. Only the accused, the district attorney and the Grand Jurors are allowed in the room.What are My Options?
Your attorney will advise you as to how to proceed at this stage. Your options are generally:
- Do nothing at all and hope for the best.
- Investigate your case but keep your evidence secret for later use at trial.
- Be proactive and present your side to the Grand Jury.
Option 1 should be avoided at all cost. I can’t tell you how many people have come to my office after being indicted on a case that could have been effectively defended at the Grand Jury level. Often people have no idea that their case can be defended at this stage, or they mistakenly assume that they have no defense. Closing your eyes and hoping that it all goes away is never an effective way to defend a criminal accusation.
Options 2 and 3 go hand in hand. Once you hire an attorney, your attorney will work to obtain information regarding the State’s case against you and to identify evidence that works in your favor or gives rise to a defense. After you get this information together, you and your attorney will decide whether to present your evidence to the Grand Jury or whether to hold your evidence for use at a later time.
If your evidence demonstrates your actual innocence or at least casts sufficient doubt on the reliability of the State’s case, then the charges could be dropped entirely. A victory at this stage is probably the most desirable and least expensive outcome that you can achieve.
If you or a loved one has been accused of a criminal offense, contact us today. We can help.