The Key Differences Between a Federal Grand Jury vs. a Grand Jury Indictment
A grand jury is a group of citizens who listen to evidence presented by a prosecutor and decide if there is probable cause to charge someone with a crime and bring them to trial. A federal grand jury considers federal crimes, while state grand juries consider state crimes.
There are some major differences between federal grand juries and grand jury indictments that people often get confused. This article will break down the key differences in a simple way that’s easy to understand.
The Role of Each Type of Jury
The main difference is in the role or purpose of each type of jury:
- A federal grand jury decides if there is enough evidence to charge someone with a federal crime and bring them to trial. They decide if probable cause exists.
- A grand jury indictment is the formal charging document that contains the charges against the defendant.
So the federal grand jury recommends charges, while the grand jury indictment is the actual formal charges.
Here’s who is involved in each:
- Federal grand jury: 16-23 grand jurors, prosecutor, judge, witnesses
- Grand jury indictment: Only the grand jurors (no defendant, no defense attorney)
The defendant and their lawyer can’t be in the grand jury room. Only the prosecutor presents evidence.
Federal grand juries are secret, but a grand jury indictment is public:
- Federal grand jury: Super private, everything is secret
- Grand jury indictment: The charges are public record once filed
So the process of the federal grand jury is confidential, but the result (the indictment) is made public.
Federal grand juries have looser evidence rules:
- Federal grand jury: Prosecutor can show any evidence, even illegally obtained stuff
- Grand jury indictment: Real trials have strict evidence rules
So prosecutors can bring up more evidence to get an indictment from a federal grand jury versus at an actual trial.
Federal grand jury indictments don’t require every juror to agree:
- Federal grand jury: Only 12/23 jurors need to vote for an indictment
- Grand jury indictment: Trial convictions need all 12 jurors to agree
So federal grand juries can indict with less agreement than a trial jury needs to convict.
Here’s the time commitment for each:
- Federal grand jury: Meets a few days every month for 18 months
- Grand jury indictment: Trial juries meet every day for a short trial
Federal grand juries serve for a long stretch, while trial juries just hear one case.
If you’re dealing with a federal grand jury investigation or possible criminal charges, make sure to get an experienced defense lawyer to protect your rights. They can guide you through the process and represent your interests.
So in summary, federal grand juries decide on indictments while regular grand jury indictments are the actual formal charges. They differ in who’s involved, secrecy, evidence standards, unanimity requirements, time commitment, and more. Understanding these key differences is important for anyone involved in the criminal justice process.