The grand jury is a very interesting concept, and one that has fascinated Adam M Smith for many years. Their role is to investigate criminal conduct, determining whether or not there is probable cause to charge someone. They may also request things such as sworn testimonies or the production of certain documents. They are not the same as a court, however.
Adam M Smith Delves into the Meaning of the Grand Jury
There are only two countries in the world that continue to use a grand jury. The first country is Liberia and the second, surprisingly, is the United States. They were used in various common law jurisdictions in the past, but other types of preliminary hearings are not used instead. The grand jury investigates and accuses. The investigate by looking at documents and evidence, determining whether or not they can accuse someone of an offence with probably cause.
In the US, the grand jury is made up of between 16 and 23 individuals. Virginia, however, has special grand juries and regular grand juries on which fewer members sit. The grand jury are known as “grand” because they traditionally had more people on them than a regular “petit” jury, on which 11 individuals sit.
The purpose of the grand jury is not to determine whether or not someone is guilty, but rather to accuse them of an offense. What this means is that individuals in the community can actually take part in legal proceedings and ensure that there is no maladministration or crime in their area. If a grand jury decides to accuse, they write an indictment in which the offense is highlighted and what they suspect the accused did in the event. Sometimes, they do this through presentment, which is a lot less formal. Usually, they accuse because they have heard and seen evidence that gives them probable cause, although there are also cases that are so clear that they can indict straight away. During these proceedings, the accused can not interfere.
If a grand jury believes that the accusation is true and that prosecution should continue, they would write “true bill” on the indictment. The grand jury’s foreman will then sign this and all jurors are present when this is publicly presented to the court. If, however, the grand jury decides that there is no probably cause, they write “ignoramus” on the indictment instead. Which means that they feel the case should be ignored rather than the accused going to trial.
There are many pros and cons to having a grand jury. At their heart, they were developed to ensure governments would not have total legal power of its people and could not take advantage of their citizens. This is still an important part of the role of the grand jury, as seen in their involvement in the case against Hilary Clinton and her emails, or Russian involvement in the last presidential election. Others, however, feel that the system is archaic and has no more relevance in today’s world.