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What role do grand juries play in criminal prosecutions?

On Behalf of | Jul 17, 2021 | Violent Crimes

If prosecutors charge you with a crime, there is a good chance you can choose to have a trial in front of a jury of your peers. These individuals consider all available evidence and decide whether you are guilty of the charged crime or innocent of it.

While they have a similar name, grand juries are not the same as the jury you may face at trial. Still, grand juries often play an integral role in felony prosecutions throughout Illinois.

What do grand juries do?

According to the Illinois Constitution, prosecutors cannot try you for a felony-level crime unless a grand jury has indicted you or you have had a preliminary hearing in front of a judge. The grand jury listens to the prosecutor’s evidence and determines whether there is probable cause to support an indictment. The grand jury may also subpoena its own evidence and question witnesses.

Who serves on a grand jury?

In Illinois, 16 individuals serve on a grand jury. These individuals come from the county or counties where the criminal conduct allegedly took place. Grand jurors may sit for a few months at a time and hear evidence about many different potential crimes.

Are grand jury deliberations public?

Unlike a preliminary hearing, where prosecutors make arguments in court, grand jury deliberations are usually secret. As the target of a criminal investigation, you typically cannot present evidence or rebut the prosecutor’s evidence. If nine of the 16 grand jurors determine there is sufficient probable cause a crime may have occurred, the grand jury is likely to issue an indictment.

Prosecutors often prefer grand jury proceedings over preliminary hearings, as grand juries are often easier to convince than judges. Consequently, because of the secretive nature of grand juries, you may receive a grand jury indictment with little or no notice.