What is the Role of a Grand Jury in the Judicial System?
The judicial system of the United States is clearly outlined in Article three of the constitution. The role of a grand jury is explicitly defined in the fifth amendment of the Bill of Rights. A grand jury is assembled in the event of an indictment for a capital or infamous offense. Such a jury is assembled for the purpose of evaluating prosecutory evidence.
Once the evidence is assessed, it is the job of the grand jury to rule on whether or not there is sufficient grounds to continue on to a trial. This is the initial step in the justice systems method of bringing an individual to trial for an offense. The process of assembling this jury begins with a summons from the assignment judge for the hearing. Jurors are chosen to sit on a grand jury through many different methods.
They may be chosen through a random pick by a computer or through drawing numbers similar to that of a lottery system. The number of selected jurors varies depending upon the trial classification. For civil trials there are typically eight individuals who will be seated as grand jurors. With a criminal trial, the number of jurors is most likely to be 14 in number.
Regardless of the whether the potential case is civil or criminal in nature, there are alternate jurors that must be readily available in the event that a selected juror is excused from the jury. The two main types of grand jury cases involve criminal and civil cases. For cases that fall under the criminal category, the jury may hear evidence and testimony regarding capital offenses such as murder. Anyone accused of a criminal offense has the right under the constitution to a trial by jury.
A criminal court proceeding requires more substantial proof through evidence due to the serious nature of the alleged crime. Grand juries in criminal cases are scrutinized much more closely because the liberty of another person is at stake. In a civil case, the jury is assembled to hear evidence for disputes involving complaints not of a criminal nature. A civil case usually involves two parties, a plaintiff and a defendant.
The grand jury decides, based upon the evidence provided, whether there is sufficient cause to pursue to trial. Prosecutors generally favor a grand jury in bringing a case to trial for the simple fact that if the jury determines there is enough evidence to take the case through to trial, there is a better chance that the trial jury will favor the prosecution due to the evidence. The role of a grand jury in the judicial system, as outlined above, gives a clear picture of the process by which a grand jury functions. The right to a fair trial cannot be preserved without the seating of a proper grand jury.