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FAQs About the Federal Grand Jury Process from a Lawyer

By Spodek Law Group | October 20, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 08:46 pm


FAQs About the Federal Grand Jury Process from a Lawyer

Being called to testify before a federal grand jury can be an intimidating and confusing experience. As a lawyer who has represented numerous clients in these proceedings, I’m often asked a range of questions about how federal grand juries work and what rights an individual has when testifying.

In this article, I’ll aim to answer some of the most common FAQs I receive about the federal grand jury process in an easy-to-understand way. My goal isn’t to give formal legal advice, but rather provide a helpful overview so you know what to generally expect if you ever find yourself in this situation.

What is a federal grand jury?

A federal grand jury is a group of 16 to 23 citizens who are tasked with deciding whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and to bring criminal charges against a defendant through an indictment. Grand juries operate in secrecy – their proceedings are closed to the public and records are sealed.

Federal grand juries are very powerful investigative bodies. They can subpoena documents and witnesses to testify. However, they don’t determine guilt or innocence – that role belongs to a trial jury if charges are brought. The grand jury simply decides if there is enough evidence to move forward with charges.

How does the federal grand jury process work?

The federal grand jury process typically unfolds as follows:

  • A federal prosecutor presents the grand jury with an investigation into a potential crime.
  • The prosecutor subpoenas witnesses to testify before the grand jury.
  • The grand jurors listen to witness testimony and review evidence.
  • After hearing all the evidence, the grand jury deliberates in private and votes on whether to issue an indictment.
  • If at least 12 jurors vote to approve an indictment, charges are brought against the defendant.

A single federal grand jury can be impaneled for up to 18 months, but individual jurors typically serve for about 30 days at a time. Over the course of its term, a federal grand jury may consider multiple investigations and vote on multiple indictments.

Why might someone be called to testify before a federal grand jury?

There’s a few main reasons why federal prosecutors may want you to testify before a grand jury:

  • You’re a subject or target of the investigation
  • You’re a witness to events relevant to the investigation
  • You have documents or other evidence related to the investigation

In most cases, witnesses are not the actual target of the investigation – they simply have information that may assist the grand jury. However, sometimes the prosecutor does intend to seek an indictment against the witness.

What are your rights when testifying before a federal grand jury?

Some key rights to be aware of if called to testify include:

  • You can invoke your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at any time if you believe answering a question may implicate you in a crime.
  • You have the right to consult with an attorney outside the grand jury room before answering questions, although your attorney cannot be present with you.
  • You have the right to review any documents in your possession before answering questions about them.
  • You have the right to request limited immunity in exchange for your testimony.

However, you do not have the right to remain completely silent or refuse to appear before the grand jury. If you refuse to testify after being granted immunity, you could potentially be held in contempt.

What should you do if subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury?

If you receive a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury, here are some key steps:

  1. Consult with an experienced federal criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
  2. Do not ignore the subpoena – you are legally required to appear.
  3. Invoke your Fifth Amendment right if you believe answering any question may implicate you.
  4. Be truthful in your testimony – lying can lead to perjury charges.
  5. Get legal advice before agreeing to any immunity deal or plea bargain.

Having an attorney help guide you through the process is highly recommended. An attorney can ensure your rights are protected and provide guidance on handling the prosecutors questions.

What happens after a federal grand jury hearing?

There’s three potential outcomes after you testify before the grand jury:

  1. No indictment – If fewer than 12 jurors vote to approve charges, no indictment is returned and the investigation ends.
  2. Indictment of others – The grand jury may indict other targets of the investigation, but not you.
  3. You are indicted – If 12 or more jurors vote to charge you, an indictment with criminal counts will be issued.

If you are indicted, the next steps will be an arraignment and then either a criminal trial or plea bargain negotiations. Having an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer to guide you through this process is critical.

Key Takeaways

Being called before a federal grand jury can be unnerving, but understanding the process and your rights is empowering. Some key takeaways to remember:

  • Consult with a lawyer immediately if subpoenaed
  • You have the right to remain silent if answers may incriminate you
  • Be truthful, but do not feel pressured into answering
  • Request immunity if it helps provide truthful testimony
  • An indictment does not equal a conviction – build your defense

With the help of an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer, you can navigate the grand jury process and protect your rights.

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