When many people hear that someone faces criminal charges, they often assume that police performed a brief investigation and took their best suspect into custody. They also often assume that a trial where a jury decides a defendant’s fate will soon follow.
There’s a bit more that happens in real life, however, before prosecutors decide to file criminal charges. In many serious cases, arrests are made and criminal charges are filed only after a grand jury convenes.
How grand juries work
Like everything in life, criminal cases have a starting point. Law enforcement officers investigate potential crimes and present evidence of possible illicit activity to prosecutors. It’s the prosecution’s responsibility to determine whether investigators amassed enough evidence to charge you. Both Pennsylvania and federal laws allow prosecutors to impanel grand juries to decide whether to indict a defendant on serious felony charges.
Grand juries vary in size depending on the jurisdiction. State ones often have between 6 and 12 jurors on them. Federal prosecutors may impanel anywhere from 16 to 23 individuals to assess the strength of their case, though.
These proceedings are different from other judicial hearings in that grand juries meet privately behind closed doors. Only a judge, prosecutor and the jury are present. There’s no defense counsel present nor any cross-examination of witnesses. That panel will often hear prosecution arguments, witness accounts and review any discovery they’ve compiled before determining if they believe that there’s probable cause or ample evidence to indict a suspect.
Grand juries don’t have to reach a unanimous decision for prosecutors to indict a suspect for a crime. A state prosecutor or U.S. Attorney may even move forward in prosecuting a defendant even if a grand jury doesn’t think that they’ve made a strong case.
What you should do if you’re facing criminal charges
A defendant should take criminal charges seriously any time that they’re facing them. It might be even more significant that you do so if a grand jury panel indicted you, though. That means that not only did prosecutors think that they compiled strong enough evidence to move forward in pursuing a case, but so too did a panel of your peers.
Having a criminal defense attorney who is well-versed in both Pennsylvania and federal laws on your side, advocating for you will be essential if you want to get a fair shake in your Carbondale case.