Definition of grand jury
grand jury (plural grand juries)
- (law) A group of citizens assembled by the government to hear evidence against an accused, and determine whether an indictment for a crime should be brought.
In the common law, a grand jury is a type of jury that determines whether there is enough evidence for a trial. Grand juries carry out this duty by examining evidence presented to them by a prosecutor and issuing indictments, or by investigating alleged crimes and issuing presentments. A grand jury is traditionally larger than and distinguishable from a petit jury, which is used during a trial.
Grand juries are today virtually unknown outside the United States. England abandoned grand juries in 1933 and instead uses a committal procedure, as do all Australian jurisdictions. In Australia, although the State of Victoria maintains provisions for a grand jury in the Crimes Act 1958 under section 354 Indictments, it has been used on rare occasions by individuals to bring other persons to court seeking them to be committed for trial on indictable offenses. New Zealand abolished the grand jury in 1961. Canada abolished it in the 1970s. Today approximately half of the states in the U.S. employ them, and only twenty-two require their use, to varying extents. Most jurisdictions have abolished grand juries, replacing them with the preliminary hearing at which a judge hears evidence concerning the alleged offenses and makes a decision on whether the prosecution can proceed.
A grand jury is meant to be part of the system of checks and balances, preventing a case from going to trial on a prosecutor's bare word. A prosecutor must convince the grand jury, an impartial panel of ordinary citizens, that there exists reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or a prima facie case that a crime has been committed. The grand jury can compel witnesses to testify before them. Unlike the trial itself, the grand jury's proceedings are secret; the defendant and his or her counsel are generally not present for other witnesses' testimony. The grand jury's decision is either a "true bill" (meaning that there is a case to answer), or "no true bill". In the state of Louisiana there is a third option, "By pretermitting entirely the matter investigated". This requires nine of the twelve grand jurors to determine there is not enough evidence presented to determine if a person should or should not be charged with a crime. Jurors typically are drawn from the same pool of citizens as a petit jury, and participate for a specific time period.
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