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Understanding the Difference Between a Trial Jury and a Grand Jury

Posted by Matthew Springer | Aug 20, 2018 | 0 Comments

When it comes to a criminal charge, we know that we are entitled to a trial by a “jury of one's peers.” Depending on your offense, you could be subjected to a trial jury, a grand jury, or both. This blog article explains the difference between the two.

To start, grand juries are involved in the legal proceedings at the beginning. That is, the grand jury is convened to investigate whether a crime has been committed or if there is enough evidence to indict someone for a particular crime. Grand jurors may be involved in numerous cases over the course of a day or even several days. They will hear from the prosecutor who attempts to make their case for finding that there is probable cause to indict someone or that a crime has been committed. They may hear from detectives or other witnesses called by the prosecution to fill in gaps, or provide additional evidence in favor of the prosecution's case.

Trial juries (also known as petit juries), on the other hand, are charged with specifically answering whether the prosecution has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed the particular crime.  They hear evidence that has been carefully screened and chosen by the presiding judge. They hear testimony from numerous witnesses for both the defense and the prosecution. They are party to a grand tableau of two competing theories of what happened and how the defendant was or was not involved or responsible.

Grand jurors can hear from the accused, however, their attorney cannot ask them any questions. Even more unusual, however, is that grand jurors can submit questions to the prosecutor to be put to the witnesses. Trial jurors can ask for clarification of instructions from the judge, ask questions of witnesses after review by the judge and parties.

While grand jurors and trial jurors are chosen from the same pool, grand juries require many more people than trial juries. Grand juries are typically made up of between 12 and 23 people at a given time and usually only a minimum is required for an indictment to be issued. Trial juries usually have between 6 and 12 members (depending upon the charges) and require the decision be unanimous before a conviction is made.

Trial juries may have shorter length of service depending upon how long the trial takes, while grand juries may be used by the prosecutor for several cases over the course of several days. However, trial juries will arguably be much more involved with and get into the weeds of their case as they are being asked to decide the facts of the case and whether those facts meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. They are often asked to answer numerous questions in an attempt to reach a final conclusion. Grand juries are not involved in civil cases, i.e, cases that do not involve criminal charges.

Defendants will have very different experiences with trial and grand juries. Trial jurors will be solely focused on the defendant throughout the case trying to determine whose version of the narrative - the prosecution or the defense - they find more credible. The jurors will spend a great deal of time watching the defendant as they testify or as others testify. Grand jurors, on the other hand, may never meet or see the target of their investigations. They also will probably not be given any alternative theory of the case - they are there solely to determine if there is enough evidence to indict the defendant and move forward.

No matter if you are facing a grand jury or a trial jury, it is imperative to have qualified and knowledgeable counsel by your side the entire way. The attorneys at Springer Law Firm will be there with you every step of the way. Contact them today at (928) 774-6600 to get started. 

About the Author

Matthew Springer

Potential clients of northern Arizona defense attorney L. Matthew Springer are often reassured when they learn of his 100 percent commitment to criminal justice. Criminal defense is all he does. As a sole practitioner, he works only for each client. Clients of L. Matthew Springer, Attorney at Law...


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