Grand Jury Indictment

The grand jury has a vital role in the judicial process in state and federal courts. But the grand jury and the indictment process are things that are often not well understood. If you are under investigation for a state or federal crime by  a grand jury, you need to understand the grand jury indictment process. (

The most important part to understand about grand juries is they are not assembled to find you guilty or innocent of a crime. The grand jury also is not responsible for your sentence. Rather, the purpose of a state or federal grand jury is to decide if charges should be filed against you. This is called a grand jury indictment. If you are indicted, you will be formally charged with a crime and are subject to immediate arrest, if you do not turn yourself in.

A grand jury is simply a group of citizens that meets on a regular basis to determine if grand jury indictments should be issued or not on various cases. The grand jury at the federal level can have as many as 23 people. But there could be fewer, especially on state grand juries. On a technical basis, a federal judge impanels the grand jury, but generally, prosecutors really control the grand jury process.

A grand jury is different from a criminal trial where the jury must come to a unanimous decision about your guilt or innocence. A grand jury only needs a majority vote to indict you. This means that the grand jury has found probable cause that you may have committed a crime. If you are indicted, you are subject to arrest. The prosecuting attorney will obtain a warrant for your arrest.

A federal grand jury can be impaneled for up to 18 months. It may hear evidence one day each week, but it can also hear it more often than that.

The Proceedings of the Grand Jury

The grand jury is theoretically a fully independent body, but all grand jury proceedings at the state and federal levels are led by the prosecuting attorney. In a federal case, the Department of Justice assigns a US Attorney to lead the grand jury through the entire indictment process. The prosecutor leading jury has total control over all the evidence that is seen by the group.

It is important to note that the prosecutor does not have to present all evidence in the hearing to get an indictment from the grand jury. In reality, the prosecutor could decline to present evidence that raises any questions that you did not commit the crime. The federal prosecutor also does not need to give proof to the grand jury of your innocence.

The prosecutor can also compel witnesses to testify before the grand jury. But if law enforcement requests an interview of a witness, that person does not have to say anything. But when the grand jury issues a subpoena, the person has to testify or will face a contempt of court charge.

Remember that the grand jury can only indict; it cannot convict you of a crime. That is why state and federal laws are not as concerned about rules of evidence in the same way as a trial. Documents and questions that would never be allowed under typical rules of evidence in a trial are often submitted for review by the grand jury.

In the majority of federal crimes, the federal prosecutor only may press charges against you with a grand jury indictment. There is one exception to this rule: If you committed a possible misdemeanor offense where the penalty is less than a year in federal prison. In that case, the US attorney could file the charges without a grand jury indictment. If this happens, the charge is being filed ‘on information.’ This is a form of affidavit from the federal attorney that states there is probable cause that you committed a crime.

Grand Jury Advantages Over Police Investigations

One of the ways a grand jury can indict you is through subpoena of witnesses and documents. If the prosecutor wants to view business records and various financial records. There also can be a court order to give records to the grand jury. Failure to obey this subpoena can result in contempt of court.

Grand Juries and the Subpoena Process

A grand jury has broad powers to issue subpoenas for witnesses. So it is common for average citizens to be brought into an investigation by the grand jury. Some citizens could get a letter stating they are a target, witness or subject to an investigation. This letter also could compel you to testify. Or, you could get a subpoena that requests a document submission.

The Indictment

If you are being investigated by the federal government, laws require you to receive a formal indictment for most felonies. For you to be indicted, the US attorney on the case offers evidence about the case to the grand jury in the district where the crime allegedly occurred.

The grand jury is in a technical sense totally independent of the federal prosecutor, but grand juries usually indict whoever the prosecutor wants them to indict. Anyone who is targeted in a grand jury investigation should assume they will be indicted. If you do appear in front of the grand jury, the important thing to remember is to never say anything that could be used against you later.

Facing a State or Federal Indictment?

If you are facing a criminal indictment, this is a very serious matter whether it occurs at the federal level or in Massachusetts. In either case, you must have an excellent criminal indictment attorney working with you today.

Attorney Geoffrey Nathan has a long track record of success fighting criminal indictments on behalf of his clients.  Attorney Nathan will be the best legal advocate for you if you are facing indictment for a state or federal crime. For a Boston criminal defense legal consultation, please text him at (617) 905-1433.


  • 6 Questions About Grand Juries Answered. (2012). Retrieved from
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