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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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What Happens In a Grand Jury?

By Spodek Law Group | July 27, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 15, 2023)

Last Updated on: 15th October 2023, 07:40 am


What Happens In a Grand Jury?

A grand jury is a group of citizens who decide whether there is enough evidence to charge someone with a serious crime and have them stand trial. The grand jury doesn’t determine if someone is guilty or innocent – that’s for the trial jury if charges are brought[1][3][4].

Key Aspects of Grand Juries

  • They typically have 16-23 members, with 12-16 needing to be present to have a quorum[4].
  • The prosecutor presents evidence and witnesses to the grand jury[2][3]. The accused person and their lawyer can’t be there, but they can be called as witnesses[3][4].
  • Grand jurors can ask questions of the witnesses[3].
  • For an indictment to be issued (charges filed), 12 or more jurors must vote yes[4].
  • Grand jury proceedings are secret – jurors can’t discuss cases outside the room[1][3].
  • Besides criminal cases, special grand juries can investigate other issues like government misconduct[1][3].
  • Grand juries have expansive powers to gather evidence and compel testimony[4].
  • Prosecutors can’t bring serious federal charges without a grand jury indictment[1][2].

The grand jury plays an important role as a check on prosecutors bringing unfounded charges, while also authorizing charges supported by probable cause. It acts as a bridge between the community and the legal system[3].

The Selection Process

People are randomly selected from voter registration lists to receive a jury summons by mail. Those summoned fill out a questionnaire about their qualifications. Both the prosecution and defense can reject potential jurors at this stage[2][4].

Those not dismissed form the jury pool that grand juries are drawn from. When a grand jury is needed, 23 people are randomly selected from the pool. These 23 are questioned by the prosecution and defense and can be rejected for bias or other reasons. Once 16-23 qualified people remain, they form the grand jury[1][4].

The Grand Jury Process

Grand juries don’t have judges or defense lawyers present. They operate under the control of a federal prosecutor. The prosecutor presents the case to the jurors, outlining the potential charges and evidence against the accused[1][3].

The prosecutor can subpoena documents and witnesses to testify before the grand jury. The accused person does not have the right to testify, but can be invited by the prosecutor. The accused’s lawyer cannot be present, but they can wait outside the room[2][4].

After hearing the prosecutor’s case, the grand jurors vote by secret ballot on whether to issue an indictment. An indictment requires agreement from 12 or more grand jurors. If they vote to indict, the prosecutor can then move forward with the charges[1][4].

Criticisms of Grand Juries

Grand juries have been criticized on a few grounds[3]:

  • They almost always agree with the prosecutor’s request for indictment, functioning as a “rubber stamp.”
  • The accused has no right to present their own case or witnesses.
  • Secrecy makes accountability difficult.
  • Juries drawn from limited jury pools may not represent community diversity.

However, supporters argue grand juries play a valuable role in authorizing charges and checking prosecutorial power[4].

Famous Grand Jury Cases

  • Watergate – The grand jury indicted several Nixon aides and helped lead to Nixon’s resignation.
  • Michael Brown – Declined to indict the officer who fatally shot Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
  • Eric Garner – Declined to indict the officer whose chokehold led to Garner’s death in New York.
  • John Edwards – Indicted the former senator and presidential candidate for campaign finance violations (later acquitted at trial).


Some reforms that have been proposed to improve grand juries[1][4]:

  • Informing jurors they can call their own witnesses and investigate independently.
  • Allowing the accused’s lawyer to be present.
  • Enacting racial and socioeconomic diversity requirements for jury pools.
  • Increasing transparency around jury instructions and voting breakdowns.
  • Training grand jurors on their role and powers.

However, major reforms would likely require changes to longstanding legal rules and traditions around grand jury secrecy and independence.


Grand juries have sweeping powers to investigate crimes and approve indictments. They act as a bridge between the law and local communities. While designed to be independent, grand jury decisions often align with prosecutors’ wishes. Reform advocates believe steps should be taken to increase diversity, transparency and balance in the process.

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