Grand Jury: Definition, Process & Purpose

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After completing this lesson, you will understand what role a grand jury plays in criminal and civil law. Moreover, you will review the purpose of a grand jury to gain insight into how the grand jury makes decisions.


Imagine that there is a town mayor who is suspected of accepting bribes. The police set up a sting operation and obtain video of the mayor accepting a briefcase of money in exchange for a quick building construction without proper permits. The police also have a bunch of other evidence of the mayor's illegal activities, but before any action is taken, the police want to make sure there is sufficient evidence to arrest and charge the mayor. In such an instance, a grand jury is used to ensure that there is enough evidence for the police to proceed.

A grand jury is a group of individuals who determine whether there is warranted reason to charge a person for a crime. If the grand jury decides that there is sufficient evidence that the person committed a crime, the grand jury will issue an indictment. An indictment is a formal statement which explains the particular crime that one is charged with.


The reason why a grand jury convenes is to determine if there is enough evidence of criminal activity for the issuance of an indictment. Frequently, grand juries will review instances of potential crimes committed by public officials and public monies. This is because there is generally a stronger public interest in making sure the evidence supports an arrest when dealing with someone in the public eye.


A grand jury is typically made up of 16 to 23 people. These people are selected for jury duty and will be assigned by the court. The grand jury will review evidence to see if there is probable cause to charge a person with a crime - in other words, that the grand jury believes the evidence shows that the person may have committed a crime.

The grand jury is sworn to secrecy and therefore cannot discuss their work with anyone. Moreover, there is neither a judge nor a defense attorney (an attorney who represents the person who might be charged) present at the proceedings. Rather, the prosecutor, who is the attorney for the state where the crime occurred, manages the grand jury. As a result, the proceedings are one-sided and designed simply to present the evidence against a person.

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