When a federal criminal prosecutor needs to determine whether enough evidence of a crime exists to pursue additional charges against an individual, a grand jury will be called. Grand juries are typically made up of 16 to 23 people and every felony case must be indicted by a grand jury unless waived by the accused.
A prosecutor will present the evidence in a felony case, and if the grand jury finds probable cause, an indictment is returned. If probable cause is found lacking, the case is dismissed. Historically, the grand jury was an English constitution that was created to provide a fair method for instituting criminal proceedings against people who were thought to have committed a crime. Today, grand juries have been abolished in certain states, but grand juries still remain a significant part of criminal cases in most states including Texas.
A grand jury’s decision about a criminal case is limited to the information that is provided by the presenter, which is typically the prosecutor. If the prosecutor believes the case should be indicted, he or she can certainly present the case in a way which is likely to get that result. The decision by the grand jury does not have to be unanimous, and a simple majority is sufficient to result in a conviction.
Grand juries are made up of ordinary citizens with no prior experience in the law and no special training, and they usually follow the lead of the prosecutor that is assigned to them. This can result in unfair persuasion, and it is important for an accused individual to seek powerful legal representation.