What Is the Role of a Grand Jury in a Georgia Criminal Case?
When someone is charged with a crime in Georgia it takes the form of either an accusation or an indictment. An accusation–also known as an “information” in other jurisdictions–is where the district attorney or county solicitor’s office files a formal charge following a suspect’s arrest or citation by the police. Accusations are used in misdemeanor cases and some felony matters, while indictments are used for more serious felony charges.
In Georgia, a grand jury has the authority to issue an indictment. A grand jury is not the same thing as a petit or trial jury. The grand jury’s role is to determine whether there is “probable cause” to require the defendant stand trial on a charge. The grand jury cannot determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence. That is for a trial jury to decide.
What Are a Suspect’s Rights When It Comes to a Grand Jury Proceeding?
Grand juries date back to medieval England. Starting around the 12th century, the King of England decreed that a group of 12 knights or other “freemen” in a town would sit as a group to consider accusations of murder, robbery, and other serious crimes. The American colonies continued the practice of relying on grand juries to weed out potentially baseless prosecutions, and both the federal Constitution and current Georgia law continue to require their use in felony cases.
Just about every competent adult citizen of Georgia (who has not been convicted of a felony) may sit on a grand jury for the county where they reside. Each grand jury has between 16 and 23 members. Unlike trial juries, a grand jury can hear several cases over an extended period, typically about two months.
By law, the local district attorney is the grand jury’s “legal advisor.” In practice, this means the district attorney’s office largely directs the work of the grand jury. The prosecutor will prepare and present a case to the grand jury and ask for an indictment.
During this process, the suspected or accused person does not have many rights. The grand jury proceedings are secret. The accused has no right to testify or appear before the grand jury. The accused–or their attorney–cannot cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. Indeed, the accused has no right to even know what witnesses have been called to testify at the grand jury.
Once the district attorney’s office has presented its case, the grand jury votes on whether to issue an indictment. Unlike a trial jury, which must be unanimous as to a defendant’s guilt, only a majority of grand jurors present must agree to issue a bill of indictment. And even if the grand jury “no bills,” or declines to issue an indictment, there is nothing to prevent the district attorney from re-presenting the case later. Double jeopardy does not attach in these circumstances.
Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today
If you have been arrested on suspicion of a crime, or you believe that a grand jury may issue an indictment against you, it is imperative that you seek immediate counsel from a qualified Atlanta criminal defense lawyer. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.