By the end of this month, a grand jury is expected to hand down a decision in the case of the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. One of the most frequently considered questions related to the case is, “What exactly is a grand jury?”
Although seemingly shrouded in mystery, grand juries are an essential part of the protections of our liberties within the legal system of the United States. Here is everything you ever needed to know about the grand jury system.
(Note: Most of this information is based on federal grand juries. Grand juries at the state level may have slightly different policies.)
What is a grand jury?
The grand jury is a jury of citizens that determines whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that a specific person or persons committed it. If the grand jury finds probable cause to exist, then it will return a written statement of the charges called an “indictment.”
After the issuance of an indictment, the case moves to trial where the accused can then defend themselves against the charges brought against them before a petit jury (also called a trial jury).
Why are grand juries important?