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What's the Difference Between a Grand Jury and a Trial Jury?

Although grand juries and trial juries are both made up of average people who were called for jury duty, they serve very different purposes.

What is a grand jury?

A grand jury helps the prosecutor decide whether to bring criminal charges against a suspect in a crime. Grand juries typically consist of 23 people, and the jurors may have jury duty for months at a time. However, jurors will have to work only a few days out of the month.

Grand juries will work closely with the prosecutor, who will explain the law to the jurors. The jurors then have the power to view almost any kind of evidence they wish and to interrogate anyone they like. The procedure for grand jury hearings is very relaxed to allow the jurors as much flexibility as possible. Typically, the parties that appear before the grand jury do not have attorneys, and the rules of evidence allow much more evidence than is allowed at a criminal trial. Grand jury proceedings are held in strict confidence to encourage witnesses to speak freely, as well as to protect the suspect if the grand jury decides not to bring charges.

A grand jury's decision is not the final step in a case. Prosecutors use grand jury proceedings as test-runs for trials and take a grand jury's decision very seriously. However, if the prosecutor strongly disagrees with a grand jury, they may ignore the decision.

What is a trial jury?

Trial juries decide the facts of a case a formal trial, and usually consist of six to twelve people. If a juror is selected for trial, they will have to work every day of the trial, which could last a few days, several weeks, or even months.

Trial court procedure is very strict and controlled entirely by the judge. Each party in a trial typically has an attorney. Unlike a grand jury, a trial jury usually has no say in what evidence they get to see. Evidence in trials is carefully chosen by each party's attorney and must adhere to a set of rules designed to ensure that the evidence is reliable. Trial juries rarely have the opportunity to ask questions.

A trial jury's decision is final. Although a decision may be appealed, a trial jury's determination of the facts will hold throughout the entire appeal process.

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