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What is a grand jury in the criminal justice system?


People often find the criminal justice system overwhelming and if someone is accused of committing a crime and going through the system, they might find it even more daunting. In order to enforce one's rights and defend oneself adequately, it is very important to understand criminal law and the justice system and the various ways a case can proceed.

If someone has been charged with a serious felony, they may find that an indictment has been issued against them by a Grand Jury. A grand jury is not to be confused with a normal jury charged with determining the guilt or innocence of the accused. Maryland residents may not be aware that a grand jury instead works with the prosecutor to determine if criminal charges or an indictment should be issued against someone. Therefore, a grand jury is actually one of the first stages of a criminal trial, not the last.

A grand jury is not involved in every criminal case however. A prosecutor presents the case to them and they determine if there is probable cause to proceed with the case and often the accused is not even present for them. The proceedings are held in private, generally to encourage witnesses to speak without retaliation and also to protect the accused's reputation in case the case does not go further.

Once the grand jury decides that there is probable cause and issues an indictment against someone, the resulting trial eventually ends up going faster. This is because the prosecutor no longer has to prove to a trial judge that they have enough evidence to continue with the trial-this has already taken place at the grand jury level.

If someone has been accused of committing a serious felony, they should be aware of the nature of charges against them, the various ways their case will go through the legal system and how this changes if there is an indictment. A Maryland resident's constitutional rights still are present regardless of this and they should consider availing them until consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney for guidance.

Source: Legal Information Institute, "Grand Jury," Accessed on March 28, 2016

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