Grand jury hearings are very different from a preliminary hearing and very different from a trial. Preliminary hearings, explains Adam M Smith, are held in a court room and allow for the defense to be there as well. Grand juries, however, do not decide on the outcome of cases based on the adversary proceeding’s context. Instead, all they hear is the evidence gathered by the prosecution.
Adam M Smith Explains the Concept of Grand Juries
Men and women from every district in the country can be selected at random to sit on a grand jury. They are often chosen in June, although this varies depending on the geographical area. Their role is to determine whether there is probably cause to suggest that someone may have been involved in a crime. It is up to a trial jury, or petit jury, to decide whether or not someone is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
The idea is that the prosecution presents the evidence that they have that would suggest someone is guilty. Technically, they should also present so-called exculpatory evidence, which is evidence that could suggest someone isn’t guilty. However, in reality, this is down to a prosecutor’s conscience and it is unlikely that they will put exculpatory evidence forward, believing that the defense will do so if and when they do get an indictment.
Why Does the Law Like Grand Juries?
The general public is not keen on the functioning of the grand jury, mainly because they operate in secret. However, law professionals disagree, and particularly prosecutors. This is because, with a grand jury, they do not have to face the defense who will contest everything that they say. Rather, they have to present only their side of the argument and find out whether or not it is strong enough. The grand jury, in so doing, ensures no time is wasted on people who are clearly innocent.
However, it is also clear that, for many, the grand jury is nothing but a bureaucratic exercise. Indeed, it is often referred to as a “rubberstamp” for the prosecutor’s office. This is also why it is use so much, in virtually every criminal matter, and why the outcome is almost always the same: indictment. The problem with this is that certain high profile cases, such as those in which policemen have shot unarmed black individuals, are not indicted. For the general public, this suggests that the grand jury does not favor people, but that it favors officials.
Prosecutors, however, will almost always choose to use a grand jury if they can. They like the very thing that the general public distrusts, which is that the hearings are held in secret. The alternative, for a prosecutor, would be to convince a judge during a public preliminary hearing, which is much more difficult. Additionally, preliminary hearings have a much higher burden of proof towards guilt. In front a grand jury, the burden of proof is about probable cause, which is much easier to prove.