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A grand jury can be convened on either a federal or a state level. A grand jury is different than a trial jury in that instead of determining whether or not a person did in fact commit the crime charged, a grand jury decides whether there is enough evidence to charge a person with committing a crime. If the grand jury decides there is enough evidence, they issue an indictment, which is a written formal charge of a crime.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires a grand jury to formally charge an accused person with any felony in federal court. State courts, however, use grand jury investigations differently. In Minnesota, a grand jury must indict the accused only when the charge involves life in prison. Grand juries can also be used in Minnesota for some lesser offenses, but they aren’t required.
In a grand jury hearing, the prosecutor calls witnesses to testify. After the prosecutor questions a witness, each member of the grand jury will have the opportunity to ask questions of the witness as well. This is a very big difference between a grand jury and a trial jury. Whereas the trial jury just listens to testimony, a grand jury is able to communicate and elicit information from witnesses. Although it is very rare for the accused to testify, or any person to testify on the behalf of the accused, it is a possibility in a grand jury investigation. But there is no legal requirement for the accused to testify, and in fact, the Fifth Amendment grants the accused the right not to testify against himself or herself.
When to Involve a Defense Attorney
Grand jury proceedings are secretive and closed to the public, and happen after the prosecution has investigated and decided to bring charges. It is essentially the last step before formal charges are brought and the case goes to trial. If you are being investigated for any type of white collar crime, it is important that you contact the attorneys at Gaskins Bennett Birrell Schupp LLP as soon as you are aware of the investigation. It is always in your best interest to have an attorney in your corner.