The Grand Jury in American and Texas jurisprudence is a very old institution that has at its core the duty to hear, investigate, and vote on whether to True-Bill or No-Bill any felony level offense that is referred to it for consideration. Most people do not know how it works or just what a Grand Jury does. Here is a brief explanation.
The method of selecting a Grand Jury recently changed. A Grand Jury panel is now is drawn from the same list of potential jurors who can be called into service for the trial of cases in the county, district, and Justice of the Peace courts (called a “petit jury”). The District Judge in charge of that Grand Jury directs that between 20 and 125 prospective Grand Jurors be summoned to appear in Court. When that group appears, the Judge then proceeds with each person to test his or her statutory qualifications, which have been expanded from those set forth above.
Now the qualifications are:
- be a citizen of this State and of the county where you will serve;
- be qualified to vote in said county [but having registered to vote is not required];
- be of sound mind and good moral character;
- be able to read and write;
- not be convicted of a misdemeanor theft or a felony;
- not be related within the third degree of consanguinity or second degree of affinity, as determined under Chapter 573, Government Code, to any person selected or serving on the same Grand Jury;
- must not have served as a Grand Juror in the year prior to that Grand Jury’s term beginning; and
- must not be a complainant in any matter to be heard by that Grand Jury during its term of office.
When the Judge has found at least 16 persons who meet the above qualifications, he or she selects 12 to serve as the Grand Jury and the other four to serve as alternates. The Judge swears them in and selects one of their number to serve as the Grand Jury Foreman. The requirement that the names of those who are empanelled remain secret remains under the new selection format.
How often a Grand Jury meets to consider cases is really a function of the need for its services. The Grand Jurors may decide themselves how often to meet and adjourn, but they may not be in recess for more than three days without the permission of the Judge who empanelled them. The statute sets forth the Duties of the Grand jury as: “The Grand Jury shall inquire into all offenses liable to indictment of which any member may have knowledge, or of which they shall be informed by the attorney representing the State, or any other credible person.” To accomplish these duties, they may issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear before them and give evidence (including out-of-county witnesses); compel witnesses to testify when they refuse to do so; hear evidence from an accused defendant (but cannot force such person to testify if such person exercises his or her right against self-incrimination); receive evidence via teleconference; and issue subpoenas for records. Once all the evidence is before the Grand Jurors, they vote on whether to present an Indictment (called a “True Bill”) or not (called a “No-Bill”). All true-billed indictments are drafted by the attorney representing the State and then signed by the Foreman of the Grand Jury. They are then filed in the District Clerk’s Office (called “presentment”). At least, nine of the twelve members must vote to indict a case.
Only certain persons may be present in the Grand Jury meeting room while it is hearing cases. Those are:
- the attorney representing the State;
- a Bailiff;
- a Court Reporter;
- a translator for a witness;
- the Grand Jurors;
- a person operating a video-conferencing device; and
Each of these is sworn to secrecy. It is a crime to reveal anything that is seen or heard by a Grand Jury (but a witness may repeat his or her testimony in Court, or speak to an attorney or investigator about their knowledge of the case).
If a criminal defense attorney is hired by an accused early on (prior to indictment), he or she can prepare what is referred to as a “Grand Jury packet”, which may consist of letters, affidavits, witness statements, case law, photographs, appraisals, etc., and send that packet to the Grand Jurors (through the office of the attorney representing the State) in an attempt to persuade the Grand Jurors not to indict his or her client, or to reject the case, or to indict the case as a Misdemeanor; or to indict a different defendant. This is a most valuable tactic in the hands of an experienced criminal defense attorney, and may result in a far better outcome than if nothing had been done for the client. However, once the case is true-billed, it is too late to influence what the Grand Jury does with your case.
If you are under investigation for any crime, or you have been arrested for a felony offense, you are advised to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney right away to assist you. Early intervention in the Grand Jury process can make a huge difference in your life.