7 Key Differences Between Federal Grand Juries and Trial (Petit) Juries

There is a great deal of confusion surrounding public understanding of federal grand juries and trial juries—also known as a petit jury.  Both are comprised of  groups of American citizens called to hear evidence and make decisions regarding criminal justice, and both serve vital roles in our justice system, but they are actually quite different.
Below we have detailed seven key differences between grand juries and trial juries:
Purpose: The purpose of a grand jury and a trial jury differ significantly. The purpose of a grand jury  is to decide whether there is enough evidence to indict an individual on specific charges. The grand jury is meant to hear the facts and evidence of a potential defendant and decide whether there is probable cause that the  individual committed a crime. A trial jury actually decides the guilt or innocence of individuals who are charged with a crime after it has been indicted..
Evidentiary Requirements: The evidentiary requirements in a grand jury hearing are far less formal and strict than those required in an actual trial. Prosecutors may present just about any type of evidence they wish to a grand jury, even if it is circumstantial or even hearsay. The evidence that can be presented to a trial jury, on the other hand, is extremely limited and governed by formal procedures in accord with the federal rules of evidence and applicable statutory and case law.intended to ensure that a trial is  fair.  
Formality: A grand jury hearing is  much more relaxed and informal than a normal trial. This is in theory intended to help make the process more efficient and also create an environment in which all potential evidence relating to the possible indictment  can be presented openly and honestly. This includes trying to make witnesses feel more comfortable testifying in front of the grand jury. As with evidentiary requirements, however,jury  trials are extremely strict and formal in how they can proceed.
Votes Required to Convict or Indict: While requirements can vary in a state jurisdiction,  for a federal grand jury hearing 12 of a possible 23 grand jurors must agree in order for the prosecutor to indict. However, with a trial jury, all jurors must agree unanimously in order for the defendant to be found guilty. Unanimity is necessary in order to uphold a defendant’s’ constitutional right to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Defendant Participation: A  significant difference between  grand juries and trial juries lies in the degree to which a defendant and his or her attorney may participate in the proceedings. It is important to understand that, in a grand jury hearing, the defendant and his/her lawyer are not allowed to attend. The only people present in  grand jury proceedings are the jurors,, the prosecutor, a court reporter , and any witnesses the prosecutor calls  to testify. The defendant’s attorney will have no opportunity to rebut or disprove evidence and has no say in how the grand jury should proceed. .
Confidentiality: Grand jury proceedings are secret, while trials are open to the public. With a grand jury, attendance is limited to the aforementioned individuals.
Final Decision: A grand jury decision does not necessarily carry finality.  .Prosecutors may use grand juries as “test-run” trials, and while they must use them to indict an individual, they may try to indict or charge an individual  before a different grand jury if a former  grand jury chose not to indict the  individual.  However, the decision of a trial jury is final, ultimately deciding the guilt or innocence of an individual for each charge brought against him or her. While a decision from a trial jury may be appealed, this is only a remedy if sufficient errors for an appellate reversal were made in the trial court process.
If you are facing any type of criminal charges it is vital that you enlist the services of a skilled criminal defense attorney to protect your best interests and fight to ensure your rights are upheld. Call the law firm of Weisberg Kainen Mark today and let us go to work for you.  

The following two tabs change content below.

Weisberg Kainen Mark, PL

As experienced trial lawyers with a passion for justice, our firm provides clients with compelling advocacy, attorney availability, and creative solutions to your tax or criminal law matters.

Latest posts by Weisberg Kainen Mark, PL (see all)