A grand jury is not like a regular jury. They are assembled, via random selection from registered voters, to determine if there is probable cause to prosecute. In other words, the pool decides whether there is sufficient reason to believe the person accused could have committed the crime.
Grand juries are reserved for severe federal cases. When the grand jury is assembled, they will hear evidence and arguments from the prosecutor. They will not hear evidence or statements from the defense. Once the prosecutor has concluded his or her presentation, the jury reviews the evidence and decides if the accused should stand trial. They do not determine innocence or guilt.
What is the grand jury's purpose?
The purpose behind a grand jury goes back before the Revolution. However, the main idea is that a grand jury is used as a checks and balance-type system. On one hand, the jury may decide there is reason enough to put the accused on trial. On the other hand, the jury may decide there is not probable cause and the person should not be formally charged of a crime. In this sense, it is meant to protect citizens from frivolous prosecution.
However, even though the grand jury may vote for indictment, they are not the only ones who determine if a criminal charge is appropriate. The United States Attorney must sign the indictment.
What if you are indicted?
Being indicted by a grand jury is very serious, especially if it relates to a violent crime. You will want to have an experienced criminal law attorney at your side who can help you navigate through the criminal justice system.