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 entirely different purposes. A grand jury helps determine whether charges should be brought against a suspect, while a trial jury renders a verdict at the criminal trial itself. Put differently, a grand jury hands down an indictment at the beginning of a case, while a trial jury decides guilt or innocence at the very end (not counting the appeal process).

Read on to learn more about the difference between a grand jury and a trial jury.

What Is a Grand Jury?

Many people wonder, what does a grand jury do? In a nutshell, a grand jury helps the prosecutor decide whether to file charges against a suspect in a crime. Grand juries typically consist of 23 people, and the individual jurors may have jury duty for months at a time. However, jurors will have to work only a few days out of the month.

Prosecutors use grand jury proceedings as test-runs for trials, and take a grand jury's perception of the evidence seriously. However, if the prosecutor strongly disagrees with a grand jury, he or she may ignore the decision.

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 relaxed to allow the jurors as much flexibility as possible. Typically, the parties that appear before a grand jury do not have attorneys, and the rules of evidence permit 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 does not have to be unanimous to issue an indictment, but two-thirds or three-quarters of the individual grand jurors must agree (depending on the jurisdiction).

What Is a Trial Jury?

Trial juries are familiar to most people from portrayals in television programs and movies. Their job is to decide which side to believe at a formal criminal trial, or in other words, to render a verdict of guilt or innocence. Smaller than a grand jury, a trial jury usually consists of six to twelve people. The individual jurors will have to work for the full length of the trial, which could last a few days, several weeks, or even months.

Trial court procedure is extremely 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.

More Questions About the Difference Between A Grand Jury and a Trial Jury? Ask a Lawyer

If you're being investigated for a crime or if you've already been charged and may soon face a jury, it's in your best interests to immediately reach out to a qualified defense lawyer who knows the ins and outs of the system and who will protect your legal rights. Contact a criminal defense attorney near you today to learn more.

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