What is a Grand Jury?

Justice Department special counsel and former FBI Director, Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in his investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election. The significance of this is that issuing grand jury subpoenas doesn’t signal that indictments are imminent — or will ever happen — or that Mueller has concluded there has been wrongdoing. The move is often simply a tool to allow a prosecutor to gather evidence or testimony. Impaneling a grand jury shows that Mueller means business by doing a serious criminal investigation. Ty Cobb, special counsel to the President, said he wasn’t aware that Mueller had started using a new grand jury.

So, what is a grand jury?

In Maryland, a grand jury is a group of up to 23 people who conduct investigations and/or
receive evidence to determine whether probable cause exists to charge someone with a crime. Many are surprised to learn that a grand jury does not hear both sides of the case and as such, does not determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.   Rather, the grand jury only determines whether probable cause exists that the accused committed the crime.

Typically, the State’s Attorney (or an Assistant State’s Attorney in larger jurisdictions) will call witnesses and present testimony to the grand jury for review.  Unlike a criminal trial, there is no cross examination of the witnesses and hearsay statements are admissible.   Additionally, the state’s attorney may invite the grand jurors to ask questions of the witnesses.  After the witnesses have testified, the grand jury will determine if probable cause exists for the accused to be charged with the crime.

Interestingly, an accused has the right to testify in a grand jury proceeding in Maryland. However, it is a double edged sword and rarely conducted because the lawyer for the accused is not permitted to be present during the testimony and the prosecutor is allowed to ask questions of the accused during the testimony.

The grand jury process is often criticized due to the perception of bias in favor of the prosecution, leading to Judge Sol Wachtler’s famous line that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.  However, there are occasions where grand juries decline to authorize the issuance of criminal charges.  Most recently, a grand jury deemed that there was no probable cause to indict Raiders’ first round pick, Gareon Conley of criminal charges in a sexual assault allegation.

Contact a Defense Attorney
Grand jury indictments and/r subpoenas are serious matters.  Firm attorney Duncan Scott Keir is experienced at handling criminal matters and can help you navigate the treacherous waters of a grand jury investigation.  To schedule a consultation, please contact Duncan at
duncan@pricekeir.com or 410-528- 7205.