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|Federal Grand Juries|
Handbook for Federal Grand Jury Forepersons
Federal courts – links to federal district courts and to the federal circuit courts of appeals (the district courts are the trial courts, the circuit courts are the intermediate appellate courts and the Supreme Court is the ultimate appellate court), http://www.uscourts.gov/allinks.html#all
Because of the Fifth Amendment, the federal legal system has to use grand juries to bring charges, at least for certain offenses. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that charges for all capital and "infamous" crimes be brought by an indictment returned by a grand jury. The amendment has been interpreted to require that an indictment be used to charge federal felonies, unless a defendant waives his or her right to be indicted by a grand jury. The Supreme Court has held that this part of the Fifth Amendment is not binding on the states, so they can use grand juries or not, as they wish.
(If a defendant waives his or her right to be indicted by a grand jury, the prosecutor can charge them by using an "information." An information is simply a pleading that accuses the defendants of committing crimes, just as an indictment does. The difference between an indictment and an information is that a grand jury must approve an indictment, while a prosecutor can issue an information without the grand jury's approval or, for that matter, without ever showing the information to the grand jury.)
Since most federal prosecutions involve felony charges, grand juries play an important role in enforcing federal criminal law. The sections below describe the essential aspects of federal grand juries.
of the grand jury
of jurors needed to conduct business
and replacement grand jurors
The rule does not provide for the appointment of a grand jury secretary, but the custom in some federal judicial districts is to appoint a grand jury secretary. The secretary records the attendance of specific jurors and witnesses, and may record the grand jury's vote on indictments presented to it.
Since grand jury proceedings are secret, grand juries meet in private, which means they usually meet in areas that are not accessible to the public. Federal grand juries meet in special "grand jury rooms" that are located in generally out of the way areas of a federal courthouse. You can see what a grand jury room looks like if you go to the "multimedia overview" section of this website.
Grand juries use subpoenas to gather the evidence they need to use in deciding whether crimes have been committed. They can subpoena documents and physical evidence (including videotapes, guns, etc.) and they can subpoena witnesses to testify. In the picture below, you see a police officer testifying before a state grand jury:
In the federal system, grand juries are more likely to hear testimony from federal agents (FBI, DEA, BATF, IRS) than from police officers, but they do sometimes hear from police officers, as well. They are most likely to hear from police officers when they are investigating, for example, drug trafficking or corruption in local government.
In the federal system, witnesses cannot be accompanied into the grand jury room by their attorney, if they have one. Below, you can see a grand jury witness (the gentleman) consulting, in the hall outside the grand jury room, with his attorney. The witness will then have to go back inside the grand jury room, and if he wants to consult with his attorney again, will have to ask permission to go outside and do so.
The witness, however, has to know to ask the court for the attorney, since prosecutors are not likely to be particularly sympathetic to such requests.
often a grand jury meets
grand jury proceedings
Recording was made mandatory as a check on prosecutorial abuse of the grand jury process; the drafters of the revised rule believed prosecutors would be less likely to engage in misconduct before a grand jury if they knew a record was being kept of their activities. Click here for more information on prosecutorial misconduct.
In the modern federal system, grand juries do not investigate civil matters. In fact, it is an abuse of the grand jury process to use a federal grand jury to gather evidence for use in a civil proceeding. Federal grand juries concentrate on investigating and bringing charges for federal crimes.
There are two kinds of federal grand juries: Regular federal grand juries and special federal grand juries. Regular federal grand juries tend to spend their time hearing evidence and considering indictments submitted to them by a prosecutor. They spend the bulk of their time deciding, therefore, whether probable cause exists to return a set of proposed charges against the defendants names therein. Special federal grand juries were created in 1970 specifically to investigate organized crime. They, too, consider whether indictments should be returned against certain persons, but special grand juries also devote a great deal of their time to investigating possible criminal activity.