The purpose of a grand jury is to decides whether a defendant should be charged or indicted regarding criminal matters. The grand jury system is not uniform throughout the nation each state has its own set of rules regarding the process. Furthermore, counties within a state can vary somewhat concerning their grand jury system. Although all of the states in the United States have provisions allowing grand juries, half of the states in the nation don’t use them; this is because the same determination that can be made by a grand jury can be made at a preliminary hearing (“How Does a Grand Jury Work.”).
Defendants in the state of California are often unaware that a grand jury has been empaneled against them to decide whether or not they should stand trial for a crime. The defendant is not present during the grand jury proceeding. This differs from the grand juries of some states in which the defendant may get to testify in front of the grand jury.
The standard of proof is lower in grand jury proceedings that it is in regular jury or petit jury proceedings. Since the grand jury’s job is only to decide whether or not the defendant should stand trial, the grand jury has an obligation to determine whether the there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crimes for which the matter was brought before the grand jury. At trial, however, the jury must determine that the prosecutor proved the elements of the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the state of California, the size of the grand jury is determined by the size of the country with counties that have more than 4 million people having 23 people on a grand jury, 11 grand jurors in countries with less than 20,000 people. And 19 elsewhere (“’Grand Jury’ Proceedings in California”, 2016). Furthermore, to bring an indictment a unanimous vote by the grand jury is not required; the vote must be 14, 8, or 12 respectively according to the size of the jury.
In the state of California, minors may be indicted by a grand jury to be tried as adults under Proposition 21; the grand jury’s ability to indict minors in California was upheld earlier in 2016. “The [Supreme Court] also noted that in prosecutions initiated by grand jury, the grand jury must make the same finding a magistrate might that treasonable cause exists that the minor comes within the provisions of the welfare and institutions code – although that finding need not be express, the court said” (Russell, 2016). Proposition 21 was approved in March of 2000 and allows juveniles 14 and older to be charged directly by prosecutors with a preliminary hearing. Proposition 21 only applied to certain types of rather heinous crimes. Thus, there is little difference in the grand jury system for juveniles who are charged with serious crimes and from that of the adult grand jury system. However, juveniles who crimes do not fit into the categories that are specified in Proposition 21 may not be indicted by a grand jury; instead, a judge must determine whether these juveniles should stand trial as adults in a preliminary hearing.
There are limits on the types of cases that can be brought by a grand jury indictment in adult proceedings as well. For example, recently it was determined in that grand juries cannot bring indictments in police shooting cases. These cases must be brought by a preliminary hearing. This may be in response to some high profile police shootings around the nation in which a grand jury decided to indict the officer; many may question whether a judge would have made the same decision.
- “How Does a Grand Jury Work.” (2016). FindLaw.com. Retrieved from: criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/how-does-a-grand-jury-work,html.
- Russell, J. (January 14, 2016). “Grand Jury Indictments of Minors Upheld in CA.” Courthouse News Service. Retrieved from: http://www.courthousenews.com/2016/01/14/grand-jury-indictments-of-minors-upheld-in-ca.htm.