There are two types of juries utilized in the United States criminal justice system – a grand jury and a trial jury. The majority of people are more familiar with trial juries, also referred to as petit juries. Just like a grand jury, trial juries are composed of regular U.S. citizens who have been randomly selected to hear evidence and come to a decision. However, there are some notable differences between grand juries and trial juries when it comes to their function, formality and privacy.
What is a grand jury?
State, county and federal prosecutors use grand juries to review evidence presented in criminal matters. The jurors are tasked with determining whether there is probable cause and a preponderance of evidence to press criminal charges against the accused. A grand jury does not determine if the defendant is innocent or guilty. Instead, their role in criminal cases is to assess whether prosecution has presented enough evidence and established probable cause to warrant trial proceedings. Ultimately, prosecutors may not agree with the grand jury’s conclusion, and are not required by law to adhere to their decision.
Key differences from a trial jury
- Size – A grand jury consists of 16 to 23 people
- Role– To determine if prosecution has established probable cause and preponderance of evidence to press charges against a defendant
- Privacy – Unlike a petit jury, proceedings are closed to the public
- Attendees– Defendants and their legal counsel are not permitted to go before a grand jury
- Unanimity – Grand juries can reach a decision to indict without reaching a unanimous decision
- Timeline – Grand juries usually convene less frequently, in some cases only several times a month over a period of 1-6 months
What is a trial or petit jury?
In criminal cases, a trial jury decides whether the defendant is innocent or guilty of the crime he or she has been charged with. Unlike a grand jury, a trial jury is presented with evidence and testimony from both the prosecution and the defense, and use this information to determine if they believe the prosecution has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial jury’s decision – known as a verdict — is final, although it may be appealed.
Key differences from a grand jury
- Size – A trial jury consists of 6 to 12 people
- Role– To determine if the defendant is guilty of the criminal charges
- Privacy – Trial jury proceedings are open to the public
- Attendees– Defendants and their attorneys can participate and call witnesses
- Unanimity – In a trial jury, all jurors must come to a unanimous decision to obtain a conviction
- Timeline – Trial jurors must meet every day of the trial, which can last days, weeks or several months
Another key difference between a grand jury and a trial jury concerns evidentiary requirements. Trial jurors only have access to documents, photos and objects that were legally acquired by the defense and prosecution, whereas grand jurors can review evidence that was not legally obtained by the prosecution.
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Additional Resources on Types of Juries:
- U.S. Courts, Types of Juries http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/jury-service/types-juries
- MSNBC, 6 of your questions about grand juries, answered http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/6-your-questions-about-grand-juries-answered
- DifferenceBetweenInfo, Difference between Grand Jury and Trial Jury http://www.differencebetween.info/difference-between-grand-jury-and-trial-jury