The grand jury is a system that is used in around half of all states, including California. In courtroom trials, a so-called “petit” jury is used. Both the petite and the grand jury are made up men/women from every walk of life, chosen to serve. The aim of the grand jury is to determine whether or not the evidence collected on a certain case is sufficient to start criminal proceedings. Originally, these juries were there to ensure the accused had a defence. Today, however, the grand jury is under a lot of criticism. In June, Adam M Smith decided to travel through his home district in California to find out just what a grand jury is, and whether there is a point to them.
The Grand Jury According to Adam M Smith
When English settlers came over to America, they brought the grand jury with them. Today, this system of justice is used almost nowhere else. Indeed, all of the British Commonwealth, which includes England itself but also Australia, has abandoned this concept completely, finding other systems farer. In this country, however, the grand jury is mandated under the Fifth Amendment for all felonies, which are federal criminal cases.
All grand juries, regardless of the level of case they are looking at, have the same basic intent. They review the available evidence in a case and determine whether or not that is enough to indict someone who is believed to have committed the crime. This is also what some of the critics of the systems dislike the most, because they believe that the only thing a grand jury still is today, is to give prosecutors a rubber stamp.
It is certainly true that the power that rests in the hands of the grand jury is significant. They cam demand evidence and witnesses, above and beyond what courts can do. Prosecutors act on behalf of the court and they can also demand anyone to provide testimony, even if, in so doing, they would incriminate themselves. Prosecutors often have a lot of influencing power, which means they find it a lot easier to put cases together as well.
If the prosecution wouldn’t have this ability, they would find it much more difficult to obtain testimonies. According to critics, however, it isn’t right that the grand jury can circumvent the rights provided to citizens under the Fifth Amendment. Because the prosecution usually has influence, it seems that the system is no longer there to protect an accused, but rather to give the prosecution a helping hand. Additionally, because the prosecutor decides what evidence is and isn’t presented to the jury, it is too easy to influence their decision.
Someone who has been accused of committing a criminal offense must prepare themselves for the possibility of having to face a grand jury, depending on their state. No longer can they rely on the grand jury to declare insufficient evidence is available to start proceedings. Instead, they need a very good lawyer to make sure they are properly represented.