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The Purpose and Origin of the Grand Jury in the USA
by: Dilraj S. Gosal, JD, LLM
| Historic English Context
| US Constitutional Context
| Burden of Proof & Investigative Functions
| Defendants Representation
| Federal Courts
| Criticisms of Grand Jury |
A Brief Look at the Grand Jury
In the United States, the Grand Jury is regarded as the primary security to the innocent against hasty, malicious, and oppressive prosecution, and serves the function of standing as a protective bulwark between the Government and the Defendant. The purpose of the Grand Jury is to determine whether a charge is founded upon reason, or rather, dictated by an intimidating power or by malice and personal ill will. [See Wood v. Georgia, 370 U.S. 375 (1962).]
Historic English Background
The Grand Jury is intended to act as an independent body, apart from the courts and prosecution, to scrutinize the evidence against a defendant. In states that have Grand Juries, each state has its own rules regarding a state-empanelled Grand Jury.
The Grand Jury is a body of laypeople who are summoned to court to review the evidence to determine whether an indictment should be issued against the defendant.
Trial juries generally get to hear both sides of the case: from the prosecution and the defence. However, in a Grand Jury, there is no judge and only the prosecution is able to present evidence. The Grand Jury is also generally a closed process, in that the jurors are sworn to secrecy, and the proceedings are not open to the public or media, as they generally are in jury trials.
Investigative Function of Grand Jury
The Grand Jury also need not meet any burden of proof to open an investigation, and can investigate on mere suspicion or simply to ensure that a crime has not been committed. See U.S. v. Morton Salt. Co., 338 US 632 642-643 (1950).
Also, the Grand Jury does not need to conform to rules of evidence, such as hearsay, and the Grand Jury can also view evidence that would normally be suppressed or suppressible. See U.S. v. Williams, 504 US 35, 50 (1992).
Federal Courts and Grand Jury
There is also a federal Grand Jury for federal criminal cases. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and handle only a very small number of crimes compared to state courts. Federal crimes, prosecuted under the United States Code, include crimes involving inter-state matters, mail fraud, narcotics and immigration offenses, money laundering and currency reporting offenses, tax and firearm offenses, or other matters within Federal Jurisdiction.
In Federal Criminal Practice, the Grand Jury procedure is governed by Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. In Federal District Court, the Grand Jury is the primary vehicle for brining formal charges. They are used as both an investigative and charging body. Although the court summons and impanels the Grand Jury, they are under the supervision of the prosecution, in secret.
Grand Jurors are selected by the Federal District Court in which they sit. Each Grand Jury must consist of at least 16 members and no more than 23, with the possibility of alternate jurors. More than one Grand Jury may sit in a district at any given time.
Each grand jury has a foreperson and a deputy foreperson, who administer oaths, sign all indictments, and tally the voting.
The Defendant has no right to be present before the Grand Jury, and only grand jurors, US Government Attorneys, interpreters, and stenographers are permitted to be present.
The Grand Jury has come under some scrutiny in the last 50 years, for being a mere rubber stamp of the prosecutor. This has led to the common saying that any prosecutor 'can obtain an Indictment of a ham sandwich' from a Grand Jury. Some of the chief complaints are that Defense counsel are not permitted audience, the prosecution generally controls the witness lists, and that the grand jury may consider evidence obtained unconstitutionally.
Some argue that the original purpose of the Grand Jury - being a shield that protected the citizenry against frivolous or abusive government claims - is now being used as a sword to investigate citizens in an aggressive and unparalleled manner. With the enactment of legislation such as the PATRIOT Acts, new concerns develop between the balance between the patent darkness of the individual and the latent darkness of the state.
As we move from the Warren Court era to the sunset of the Rehnquist era [US Supreme Court], and increasing jurisdiction of the federal criminal law power, it will be interesting to see how the courts and Congress view the role of the Grand Jury.
Backgrounder About this Article and Author:
What is a "GRAND JURY" in the USA? This article is to help clarify so much of what we see in the public news and entertainment media referring to America's "Grand Juries" and courts. Many Canadians and some Us Citizens are not clear about what a Grand Jury is and how it differs from Canada's Criminal Court System
The author Mr. Dil Gosal, is a cross-border criminal defence lawyer, licensed as an attorney-at-law/legal-counsel in Washington State. He has undergraduate (JD) and graduate degree (LLM) in Law from Washington State and New York, and has studied law in Oxfordshire, UK and is called to the bar in BC Canada. He has also lectured on criminology at Kwantlen College.
See article introducing Canada's Criminal Court's thorugh links below:
| Canada's Criminal Law and Jury System | Sources of Canada's Criminal Law | Category of Criminal Offences | Levels of Court | Jury System |
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Twenty Questions to Ask - Before You Hire a Lawyer
An excellent Checklist for someone to use in selecting a lawyer, has been prepared by the publishers of www.lawyers-bc.com/tips.htm. You will find these guidelines useful for not just Criminal Lawyers but lawyers with other areas of legal practice specialization also.
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Canada Criminal Law as a Preferred Area of Practice
The Law Society of BC has lawyers who have stated a particular "preferred area of practice" Canada Criminal Law is one of these P.A.P's.
Not all lawyers who advertise in: telephone directories; on the Web or in magazines have tated their Preferred Area of Practice with the Law Society of BC, as it appears there is no requirement that they do so.
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"Dil" Gosal, in 2005 became a article-content contributor and criminal law consultant to CanadaLegal.info as a public service for people looking for criminal lawyers and services in the Vancouver-Lower Mainland of BC and adjoining Washington State regions.
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