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What is the role of an investigative grand jury?

The grand jury is one of America’s oldest civil institutions. It is a respected and powerful body in the U.S. judicial system. For starters, a grand jury is a totally independent body. No single grand jury member has power, but collectively the body can achieve a great deal. Its meetings are privately conducted, and the proceedings are kept strictly confidential. While its meetings are not open to the public, a grand jury is ultimately answerable to the public because the results of their inquiries and investigations take the form of formal reports that are released to the public.

The grand jury is advised by a panel usually consisting of the lower state court’s chief judge, a district or commonwealth attorney, a county counsel, and a state attorney general. Even though this panel is assembled as advisors to the grand jury, the advisor panel cannot prevent actions on the part of the grand jury unless the contemplated action is contrary to law.

Do All States Have Grand Juries?

No, not quite. But at least 40 states now utilize some form of grand jury. Often, the various state penal codes set forth the particular duties, operations, functions, qualifications, responsibilities, powers, and selection criteria for grand juries operating in a given jurisdiction.

What Are the Three Major Functions of a Grand Jury?

The three main functions of a grand jury in the U.S. are:

  1. Examining all aspects of city and county governments, as well as special districts, through the initiation of investigations
  2. Serving as ombudsmen for city and county citizens
  3. Conducting criminal investigations and issuance of indictments if adequate evidence exists rather than using preliminary hearings in lower-level state courts

Often in complicated criminal cases involving multiple suspects, a grand jury is used to obtain sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against one suspect through the testimony of other suspects.

How Does a Grand Jury Accomplish its Primary Functions?

A grand jury conducts reviews and evaluations of existing procedures, systems, and methodologies of existing governmental bodies. Through these investigations, the grand jury ascertains whether those governmental agencies are operating in compliance with their stated and published objectives and purposes. If there are ways a governmental body can become more productive, efficient, and effective, the grand jury may initiate a probe into such areas of potential improvement. In essence, the grand jury can initiate an inquiry into any aspect of a city, town, or county’s government to make sure that the citizens’ best interests and well-being are served.

If you or someone you know is subpoenaed to testify before an investigative grand jury, there is a strong probability that you or someone you are close to is a suspect in a criminal investigation. It is prudent not to appear before such a grand jury without first consulting with a criminal law or criminal defense attorney.