By District Attorney Ryan Sayers
2023 Vols. 49 & 50
This week I am combining Volume 49 and 50 to cover the two types of grand juries in one article.
The two types of grand juries are an investigating grand jury and an indicting grand jury, which have distinct roles in the criminal justice system.
A grand jury focuses on preliminary criminal matters only and the jurors are presented with only the Commonwealth’s or Government’s side of the case.
These proceedings are sealed and not open to the public since both types of part of grand juries are part of the investigative process.
As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in a decision regarding grand juries, “if pre-indictment proceedings were made public, many prospective witnesses would be hesitant to come forward voluntarily.”
This grand jury process is in contrast to a trial or petit jury, which decides guilt or innocence after being presented with both the prosecution and defense cases and is open to the public.
As stated above, there are two types of grand juries and they serve different purposes. First, is the investigating grand jury. An investigating grand jury is exactly what it sounds like.
This type of grand jury permits prosecutors to present testimony and evidence to further the investigative process. Specifically, it provides an avenue for prosecutors to get witnesses under oath and hear what they know or do not know about an alleged crime.
Additionally, through the investigative grand jury a prosecutor can acquire subpoenas for witnesses to testify, subpoenas for records and search warrants for records and evidence.
This is all done under seal and secrecy, which permits the investigative process to move forward without tipping off the suspect so that he/she does not destroy evidence, intimidate witnesses or flee the Commonwealth.
At the conclusion of an investigating grand jury, the jurors will issue a “presentment”, which states the factual determinations of a majority of the jurors.
Based on the recommendation of the investigating grand jury, the District Attorney or Attorney General can proceed to file charges and the matter will be scheduled for a preliminary hearing before a magisterial district judge (i.e. the normal process after police file charges).
The other type of grand jury is an indicting grand jury, which is used primarily at the federal level and in limited circumstances at the state level.
However, the major difference with an indicting grand jury is that at the conclusion of the grand jury proceedings the jurors can issue an “indictment.”
In this instance, the jurors have decided that there was sufficient evidence presented that a crime was committed and the suspect is the person that likely committed the alleged crime (i.e. the Commonwealth or Government has met its preliminary burden to make a prima facie case).
In other words, the Indicting Grand Jury takes the place of a magisterial district judge and a preliminary hearing, and the charges move directly to the Court of Common Pleas or Federal District Court.
This brief overview should help shed some light on the process and purpose of a grand jury. Also, it should help you to understand what these terms mean when a press release comes from the Attorney General’s Office or U.S. Attorney’s Office referencing a grand jury.
And with that, there are only two more articles left in this series. In the remaining two Q&A’s I will give a general overview of what was discussed throughout this year and put some context on the topics from 30,000 foot view.
Ryan Sayers is the elected District Attorney of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.
The information contained in this article is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.
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