The function of the grand jury is to examine evidence presented by the prosecutor and determine whether there is probable cause to return an indictment. Approximately half of the states in the U.S. employ grand juries and twenty-two require their use, including New York State.
A grand jury consists of no less than 16 jurors and no more than 23. Grand jurors are drawn from the same pool of potential jurors as are any other jury panel, and in the same manner. The pool generally consists of names pulled from various databases, such as national voter lists, motor vehicle license lists and public utilities lists. Unlike trial jurors, grand jurors do not undergo lengthy questioning by attorneys. Rather, grand jurors are rarely disqualified. If you are selected to be a grand juror by the Commissioner of Jurors, it is very likely that you will be seated and sworn as a grand juror.
Article 190 of the Criminal Procedure Law is the legal framework for the grand jury. Section 190.05 through section 190.90 governs the grand jury and its proceedings. The prosecutor acts as the legal advisor to the grand jury. In each case the prosecutor presents evidence and witness testimony. There is no judge present in the grand jury room. Typically, the prosecutor, the witness, a court stenographer and the grand jury. Each witness may be given a grant of immunity for their testimony pertaining only to self-incriminating information. If a witness refuses to testify before a grand jury they risk being held in contempt of court.
Each grand juror and the prosecutor is sworn to secrecy. Unlawful disclosure of grand jury proceedings is a crime under the Penal Law of the State of New York. This ensures that the grand jury is free to deliberate without outside pressure and prevents perjury or witness tampering prior to a trial. It further encourages people with information about a crime to speak freely. Secrecy also protects the innocent accused from disclosure of the fact that he or she is being investigated.
The prosecutor will draft the charges and read them to the grand jury. The prosecutor will question each witness and the grand jurors are permitted to ask the witness additional questions at the end of each witness's testimony. The prosecutor may instruct the witness not to answer a grand juror's question if they feel that there is a subsequent witness who would be better prepared to answer the question or the prosecutor believes the question is improper or outside the rules of allowable evidence.
A grand juror does not decide whether the subject of the grand jury investigation is guilty or not, the grand jury decides, based upon the evidence and testimony presented to them, whether the subject should be formally charged with the crime or offense. The grand jury's decision must be based upon the evidence and the law. The grand jury can either vote (1) to indict, (2) to dismiss, or (3) to direct the prosecutor to file an "information" accusing the subject of a lesser offense, or (4) refer a matter to family court, or (5) issue a grand jury report.
IF YOU ARE SELECTED AS A GRAND JUROR
Once you have been formally sworn in you will no longer use the call in service for jury duty as you have been selected to sit and have been sworn in as a grand juror for St. Lawrence County.
It may be helpful to bring reading material, paperwork or a craft as there may be some waiting time prior to your swearing in and orientation as well as during the course of your service.
You may want to dress in layers (i.e. a sweater or light jacket) as sometimes the grand jury room temperature may fluctuate.
Coffee is provided free of charge by the St. Lawrence County Bar Association. There is a refrigerator and a microwave for your use in the Grand Jury Room. Vending machines are also available in the courthouse complex.
You do not need to have read anything prior to your orientation or swearing in ceremony. All materials will be provided and a copy of Article 190 of the Criminal Procedure Law will be provided to you. You are required to listen to the orientation and read Article 190 prior to hearing your first case.