Grand jury is in

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 27, 2007

In the criminal court system a person is first arrested and receives a bond hearing with a judge. It is after this that a lawyer is brought into the picture and the criminal judicial system begins.

The first step in the system is the optional preliminary hearing. This is where evidence is presented some or all of the witnesses testify and a judge finds enough evidence to continue the process. Next, attorneys will plea bargain the case or it is thrown out from lack of probable cause.

If an attorney waives a preliminary hearing or the judge finds probable cause to continue, the next step in the process in a grand jury hearing.

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Grand juries are selected during criminal motions terms and the 18 jurors are responsible for hearing all of the cases presented on the docket. The prosecutor is allowed to present his or her case to the group in hopes that the jurors will find enough probable cause to send it to the next step in the process.

Griggers said the hearings usually take about the same amount of time as preliminary hearings as well, since the juries and judges are both asked to decide if probable cause to send the case to trial has been established. Griggers said a good district attorney uses both techniques to rid the docket of cases that can be resolved or plead without going to trial.

Attorney William Coplin said while grand juries may help prosecutors they are not usually beneficial to defense attorneys, who are not allowed to present their side of the case during the proceedings. He said the defense has little to no involvement in what grand juries are presented with during the hearings.

One of the few times during the judicial process where the prosecution has the advantage, Griggers said grand juries can be utilized to present cases in which defendants have yet to be arrested and charged with an offense. He said in those cases the indictment itself serves as an arrest warrant.

Coplin said the prosecution also has the power to recall the grand jury between terms if a pressing case presents the need. He said, however that it is not a normal practice and is rarely used by a district attorney.