What is a Grand Jury?

Grand-Jury-300x199The Grand Jury plays a very important role in our criminal justice system. Few people understand what a Grand Jury is and why it plays such an important role in our criminal justice system. A big reason for this is that the entire process is clouded in such secrecy. Clients are surprised and scared to hear that their case is going to a Grand Jury or that they have been indicted by a Grand Jury. The term “Grand Jury” can be scary for a criminal defendant who doesn’t understand what a Grand Jury is. Let’s talk about what a Grand Jury is and what role the Grand Jury plays in our criminal justice system.

Why Are There Grand Juries?

According to the Illinois Constitution, you cannot be brought to trial for a crime that carries a prison sentence unless you have been Indicted by a Grand Jury or have been given a Preliminary Hearing and a Judge has found Probable Cause to believe that a crime was committed and that you are the one that committed the crime. The term “Indictment” is a fancy word for being charged with a crime.

There’s two ways that you can be Indicted, or charged,, with a felony in Illinois. The first, and the easiest to understand, is by way of a Preliminary Hearing. A Preliminary Hearing is easy to understand because it happens in open court and is easy to explain because you can always attend and witness a Preliminary Hearing. A Preliminary Hearing is an informal hearing in front of a Judge in which the prosecution presents evidence, almost always in the form of live testimony, in front of a judge who will hear evidence about the case to establish by way of Probable Cause, more probably true than not true, that a crime was committed and that you are the one who committed the crime. The Preliminary Hearing happens in open court. You, and your lawyer, have a right to appear and listen to the evidence presented by the prosecution. Your lawyer is allowed to ask questions, or cross-examine, the State’s witnesses and argue on your behalf in front of the Judge. You are allowed to present evidence on your behalf, though this rarely happens at a Preliminary Hearing. Rules of Evidence in a Preliminary Hearing are relaxed because the ultimate question of guilt or innocence is not the subject, or purpose, of a Preliminary Hearing. If the Judge determines that the State has produced enough evidence to convince the Court that there is Probable Cause to believe that you committed a crime, the Judge will find Probable Cause and the State will be allowed to continue with the prosecution of the case by filing formal written criminal charges against you.

The second way that you can be Indicted, or charged, with a felony in Illinois, is by way of a Grand Jury. The Grand Jury consists of 16 citizens chosen in the county, or counties, in which it serves. In order for a hearing to take place in front of a Grand Jury, at least 12 members of the Grand Jury must be present. The Grand Jury will meet in secret. If you receive a summons to serve on a Grand Jury, you will go to the local courthouse and appear in front of a Judge to be questioned about whether you will be selected to serve on the Grand Jury. After 16 members are chosen to serve on the Grand Jury, the Court will appoint a foreperson who will be in charge of presiding over all of the sessions of the Grand Jury. The foreperson is responsible for making sure that at least 12 members are present for Grand Jury sessions at all times. The foreperson is responsible for making sure that all of the witnesses are sworn in and is in charge of the voting for Indictments.

The Grand Jury will meet and have information presented to it concerning possible crimes. Most of the information presented to the Grand Jury will be provided by the prosecutor. A Grand Jury has broad powers to obtain its own evidence by issuing Subpoenas for witness testimony or for the production of documents. Grand Jurors have the right to question witnesses and to gather information. After the evidence is presented to the Grand Jury, the prosecutor will leave the room and the Grand Jurors will be allowed to deliberate and vote in secret. If 9 members of the Grand Jury vote to Indict, or charge someone, with a crime, this means that they believe that there is sufficient evidence to require the defendant to stand trial and answer to the charges in Court. The Grand Jury has the sole power to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to require an Indictment.

Do I Have a Right to an Attorney at a Grand Jury?

If you are a witness in a criminal case and you receive a Grand Jury Subpoena requiring you to appear before the Grand Jury, you will probably not be entitled to have a lawyer appear with you in front of a Grand Jury. The only time you can demand to have your lawyer appear with you in front of a Grand Jury is if you are the target of the Grand Jury or if you will be making admissions in front of the Grand Jury that could subject you to criminal prosecution. It is very rare for the target of a Grand Jury to be subpoenaed to appear to testify in front of a Grand Jury. If you are the target of a Grand Jury you can demand that your lawyer be with you inside the Grand Jury oom. But if you are just a witness, you will not be allowed to have your lawyer present inside the Grand Jury room while you testify. Your lawyer can sit outside of the Grand Jury room and you will be allowed to go outside and consult with your attorney before answering questions.

Why Would the Prosecution Choose a Grand Jury Over a Preliminary Hearing?

There’s many reasons why the state may choose to Indict someone by using a Grand Jury rather than doing a Preliminary Hearing. The main reason for using a Grand Jury is that it’s easier for the state to use a Grand Jury than to do a Preliminary Hearing. Unlike a Preliminary Hearing, there’s no one on the other side to challenge the state’s evidence. At a Preliminary Hearing, the defendant and his lawyer are present and can ask questions of the state’s witnesses. There’s no challenging the state’s evidence in front of the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is meeting in secret and the defendant and his lawyer are not present. Sometimes the state would rather proceed with a Grand Jury rather than a Preliminary Hearing because they want to keep the case and their evidence secret from the public and other people that may be part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Other times the decision to proceed with a Grand Jury instead of a Preliminary Hearing could be merely due to convenience. The state’s witnesses may not be available to appear for a Preliminary Hearing in Court at a particular day or time. It may be easier for the state to go in front of a Grand Jury and bring their witnesses in to testify on different days and times.

Other times, the decision is just a matter of policy in particular Counties or for particular cases. For instance, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has a general policy of taking all gun-related, or UUW cases to a Grand Jury. It is extremely rare to have a Preliminary Hearing in Cook County for a UUW case. Preliminary Hearings are unheard of in DuPage County and Kane County. Prosecutors in DuPage County and Kane County take almost every felony case before a Grand Jury.

James Dimeas is a nationally-recognized, award-winning, criminal defense lawyer with over-26 years of experience handling criminal defense cases throughout Chicago, Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County, and Lake County. Attorney and Practice Magazine gave James Dimeas the “Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorney Award for Illinois.” The National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys gave James Dimeas the “Top 10 Attorney Award for the State of Illinois.” Recently, James Dimeas was recognized by the American Society of legal Advocates as a “Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer In the State of Illinois For the Year 2018 and 2019.” Expertise named James Dimeas as a “Best Criminal Defense Lawyer in Chicago.” James Dimeas was named a “Best DUI Attorney.” The American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys recognized James Dimeas as a “10 Best Attorney for Client Satisfaction.” The National Trial Lawyers named James Dimeas a “Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer.” AVVO rates James Dimeas as “Superb”, the highest rating possible for any criminal defense lawyer in the United States.

If you are facing criminal charges, you can always contact James Dimeas anytime for a free and confidential consultation. You can always talk to James Dimeas personally by calling him at 847-807-7405.

Additional Resources:

725 ILCS 5/112-1. Article 112. Grand Jury.

Additional Blogs:

The Jury Trial for Criminal Cases in Illinois, by James G. Dimeas. Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 21, 2019.

What Happens If You Are Arrested?, by James G. Dimeas, Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 3, 2018.