Most people are aware that a jury is an integral part of the criminal justice system. If you've been called to jury duty, you may have served on one type of jury. Yet, the term can describe two distinct groups of people who serve for different reasons. The jury that is most commonly portrayed on TV and movies is a trial jury. The second type of jury is called a grand jury. These two groups play different parts at different stages of a criminal prosecution.
The Trial Jury
In criminal law, a trial jury's main purpose is to determine the guilt of a defendant. It does this by deciding what facts are true in a trial. When certain facts are established by the prosecution or defense, they can lead the jury to a particular verdict. In general, jurors are used in all cases involving felonies and misdemeanors. The final decision by the jury becomes the official resolution of the case. In some situations, the jury may also be involved in deliberating factual assertions that will be used in sentencing matters.
A trial jury is created by selecting people from the local community. The typical jury will have up to 12 citizens on board. The actual number of required jurors depends on the jurisdiction. Jurors are chosen by the attorneys in a case through a process called voir dire. This process allows attorneys to pick potential jurors that will remain fair and impartial during the trial. Once a juror is selected, he or she will have to serve the entire length of the case. Some courts also use back-up jurors in case an acting member becomes prejudiced or incapacitated. If you are called to jury duty, you'll likely be considered for placement on a trial jury.
How a Grand Jury Differs
Unlike a trial jury, a grand jury is assembled at the beginning of a case. The sole purpose of this type of jury is to determine whether enough evidence exists to issue criminal charges against a defendant. The grand jury process is very different from a trial, although it shares some common characteristics. During a hearing, the prosecutor is the only attorney present. The prosecution presents evidence outside of the presence of a defense attorney and the defendant. These procedures are held in secret to encourage witness participation. However, the grand jury's decision is not necessarily final. The prosecution is not required to charge a defendant if the case is not promising.
There are a few more differences related to grand juries. First, the number of members in a grand jury outnumbers the typical trial jury. Next, the grand jury can choose which evidence it wants to consider in its decision. Grand juries may also visit crime scenes and speak to witnesses. This is due to a more liberal standard of evidentiary rules. In contrast, attorneys decide which evidence to put before a trial jury. Hence, a grand jury has much more control over the evidence in the case.
If you need help with felonies or misdemeanors, contact Terry Spencer PLLC to consult with. An experienced attorney can represent clients in many types of criminal law cases.