The Grand Jury

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

A grand jury plays a crucial role in the American legal system. But what exactly is a grand jury, and what does it do? Let’s dig into the details and understand this essential part of the legal process.

The Role of a Grand Jury

First and foremost, a grand jury is a group of citizens, usually between 16 and 23 people. The primary job of this type 0f jury is to review the evidence and decide whether there is enough to charge someone with a crime. They meet in private, away from the public eye. Above all, their role is to protect individuals from unfair prosecution.

The Grand Jury Process

Understanding the grand jury process is crucial for a deeper appreciation of the legal system. It’s an intricate, multi-step procedure, so let’s break it down in more detail.

Grand Jury: Gathering and Reviewing Evidence

The grand jury process begins when prosecutors present evidence related to a case. This evidence can take many forms. It might be documents, physical objects, or testimony from witnesses. Above all, this information is essential for the grand jury to make an informed decision.

Evaluating the Evidence

When prosecutors present their case, the grand jury begins its critical role as an evaluator. The evaluation hinges on evidentiary standards, which refer to the level of proof required to decide an issue or case. The evidentiary standard for a grand jury isn’t as high as in a trial since the grand jury isn’t determining guilt or innocence. Instead, they are determining whether there’s enough evidence to believe a crime might have occurred. This standard is often referred to as “probable cause.”

Given this standard, the grand jury carefully scrutinizes all the evidence that the prosecutors present. The evidence can take various forms, such as witness testimonies, physical evidence like weapons or DNA, or documentary evidence like emails or text messages. The goal of the grand jury is not to decide on the truth of the evidence but to assess whether it collectively suggests a crime may have occurred. If they believe the evidence meets the “probable cause” standard, they can issue an indictment, signaling enough evidence exists for the case to proceed to trial.

The Decision: Issuing an Indictment

An indictment from a grand jury is a pivotal moment in the legal process. This move happens when the grand jury believes there is enough evidence to accuse someone of a serious crime formally. Understanding this process, as well as the different types of bills issued, is crucial to appreciating the role of the grand jury.

The Decision to Indict

After reviewing the evidence, if the grand jury believes the case is strong, they take the next step: issuing an indictment. This is a formal accusation stating there is sufficient evidence to charge the person with a serious crime. It’s crucial to remember that an indictment doesn’t mean the person is guilty. It only means there’s enough evidence to bring the case to trial.

Understanding the Types of Bills

When a grand jury makes a decision regarding an indictment, it results in either a “true bill” or a “no bill.” Both terms are legal jargon for the grand jury’s decision.

True Bill

A true bill is issued when the grand jury believes that there’s enough evidence to charge the accused with a crime. When the grand jury returns a true bill, it means they have agreed that a trial should take place. Afterward, the accused is formally charged, and the case proceeds to the trial phase.

No Bill

On the other hand, a no bill means that the grand jury has decided there’s not enough evidence to justify a trial. If the grand jury returns a no bill, it means they don’t believe the prosecution has made a strong enough case. In this situation, the accused person won’t face trial for the charges presented to the grand jury.

The Importance of the Indictment

In conclusion, the indictment process serves a vital role in our legal system. Above all, it helps ensure that individuals are not unjustly put on trial without enough evidence. Whether the grand jury returns a true bill or a no bill, this stage in the legal process is critical to upholding the principles of justice and fairness. Remember, an indictment is not a guilty verdict. It’s merely the grand jury’s way of saying a trial is warranted based on the evidence presented.

Grand Jury vs. Trial Jury

It’s important to understand the difference between a grand jury and a trial jury. Both are made up of citizens, but they serve different roles. As mentioned before, a grand jury decides whether to indict someone. In other words, they decide if a trial should take place. On the other hand, a trial jury decides if the person is guilty or innocent based on the evidence presented during the trial.

The Importance of the Grand Jury

All things considered, the grand jury is an essential part of the legal process. It serves to protect citizens from unjust charges. After all, it ensures that there is enough evidence before a person is put on trial. This is a vital part of our legal system that helps uphold fairness and justice.

So, whether it’s a grand jury or a trial jury, remember that these groups of citizens are working to uphold the principles of the justice system: fairness, truth, and the rule of law.


Our discussion delved into the role and process of the grand jury, an essential part of the American legal system. The grand jury is a group of citizens tasked with reviewing evidence presented by prosecutors. Their primary role is determining whether there is sufficient evidence to charge someone with a serious crime.

We explored how the grand jury process unfolds. When the grand jury believes the evidence is strong, they issue an indictment, a formal accusation of a serious crime. This does not imply guilt but merely that enough evidence exists to justify a trial.

We also differentiated between a grand jury and a trial jury. The former decides on the indictment, while the latter, composed of fewer people, determine guilt or innocence during a trial.

Lastly, we dove into the types of bills a grand jury can issue. A “true bill” means they believe a trial should take place, whereas a “no bill” signifies insufficient evidence to warrant a trial.

In essence, the grand jury plays a crucial role in maintaining fairness in our legal system, protecting citizens from unjust charges, and ensuring enough evidence exists before moving to trial.


Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  07/27/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


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