Federal Grand Juries
What is a Federal Grand Jury?
Though most people are familiar with trial juries (also known as petit juries) and how they function from watching TV crime shows, the structure and purpose of Federal Grand Juries is less well known.
The purpose of a Federal Grand Jury is to investigate an issue, and then decide whether or not to accuse a person of a crime. Grand Juries have been referred to as “the shield and the sword of the people.” Grand Juries act as a shield when, despite the prosecutor’s urging, they refuse to charge a person with a crime. Grand Juries act as a sword when they charge a person with a crime through a document called an indictment. An indictment is simply an accusation that a person has committed a crime.
Are Grand Juries in Federal Court the Same as Grand Juries in Florida Courts?
No. In Federal Court, the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that persons accused of a felony (a crime that can be punished by more than a year in prison) must be charged by a Grand Jury Indictment, unless the person voluntarily waives that right. In Florida Courts, the Florida Constitution requires only that those persons accused of a capital crime (a crime punishable by death) must be charged by a Grand Jury Indictment. Charges in both the Federal and Florida system that are not required to be charged by indictment can be charged by the prosecutor in a document called an information.
In Federal Court, Grand Juries must have between 16 and 23 members, and for an indictment to be returned (approved) at least 12 members must agree. In Florida Courts, Grand Juries must have no fewer than 15, but no more than 21 persons, and for an indictment to be returned at least 12 members must agree.
In both the Federal and Florida systems, a prosecutor presents cases to Grand Juries in the hopes that it will vote to return an indictment. Unlike a trial (petit) jury that has to find a person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, both Federal and Florida Grand Jurors only need find that there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and the person under investigation was the one that committed it. Probable cause is not an extraordinarily high standard, but rather is the same level of suspicion that a law enforcement officer must have in order to make an arrest.
Are Federal Grand Jury Proceedings Secret?
Yes. The only persons allowed to be present as the Government introduces evidence are the prosecutors, the witnesses, a court reporter, interpreters, and the Grand Jurors themselves. Although a grand jury witness is not bound by the secrecy rule concerning his or her own testimony, all the other persons in the room are not allowed to divulge that witness’s testimony. Reasons for the secrecy rule include the danger that a person under investigation might try and influence the vote of a grand juror, the risk that a person under investigation might flee, and the protection of the reputation of the person under investigation.
Neither the Defendant, nor his attorney, has the right to be present or to present a defense during the Grand Jury proceedings. Because the process is so one sided, in the vast majority of the cases the Grand Jury returns an indictment. One New York state judge once stated that prosecutors have so much influence on Grand Juries, that they could get them to “indict a ham sandwich.” However, there are instances when a Grand Jury, despite only hearing one side of the case, refuses to indict and the prosecutor is unable to proceed.
What is the Purpose of A Federal Grand Jury Subpoena?
The purpose of a Federal Grand Jury subpoena is to compel a person or organization to give testimony or to provide documents.
Who Decides to Issue a Federal Grand Jury Subpoena?
Though the subpoena is issued in the name of the Federal Grand Jury, it is actually the Assistant United States Attorney in charge of the case that will decide whether or not to issue a federal grand jury subpoena.
What Should I Do if I Get a Subpoena To Testify Before A Federal Grand Jury?
Hire an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer – immediately. An experienced federal criminal trial attorney can:
- Guide you through the Federal Grand Jury process.
- Speak to the federal prosecutor and agents on your behalf, which will eliminate the possibility of you making a statement to them that could later be used against you.
- Determine if the government views you as a target, subject, or witness of the investigation.
- Challenge any part of the Federal Grand Jury subpoena that is improper.
- If the Federal Grand Jury subpoena requires you to provide documents, assist you to properly comply with the subpoena.
- Advise you on whether or not to invoke your Fifth Amendment Right Against Self Incrimination, as well as other privileges.
- Prepare you to testify.
- Be present outside the federal grand jury room during your testimony. That way, if the prosecutor asks you question that you are unsure how to answer, you can leave the room and speak in private with your attorney.
Are you looking for the best federal criminal defense lawyer in Tampa Florida? Contact Attorney David C. Hardy.
Tampa Attorney David C. Hardy is a former prosecutor that now represents people in matters related to federal criminal offenses.
Attorney Hardy is Board Certified by the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocacy as an Expert in Criminal Trial Law. In the Federal Courts, he has handled a wide variety of cases including international extradition, drug trafficking, bank fraud, health care fraud, immigration offenses, aggravated identity theft, the misbranding of drugs, and firearms offenses. He has represented clients in Federal Trial and Appellate Courts in Florida, Texas, and Georgia.
Attorney Hardy has the knowledge, skills, and experience to guide you through this process and obtain the best possible results. Contact Attorney Hardy for a free consultation.