Grand Jury – usually 16 to 23 people who sit one month to a year in ex parte proceedings, to decide whether to issue an indictment

     The grand jury (Fed. R. Crim. P. 6) is encapsulated in the Fifth Amendment within the

Grand Jury Clause:

1. Constitutional law. The clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring an indictment by a grand jury before a person can be tried for serious offenses. [1]

Amendment V

     “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

grand jury:

1. A body of (usually 16 to 23) people who are chosen to sit permanently for at least a month and sometimes a year and who, in ex parte proceedings, decide whether to issue indictments.  See Fed. R Crim. P. 6.  *  If the grand jury decides that evidence is strong enough to hold a suspect for trial, it returns a bill of indictment (a true bill) charging the suspect with a specific crime. — aka accusing jury; presenting jury; jury of indictment. [1]

1. A body composed of a number, which varies from state to state, sometimes six, sometimes twelve, and occasionally more than twelve, to which is committed the duty of inquiring into crimes committed in the county from which the members are drawn, the determination of the probability of guilt, and the finding of indictments against supposed offenders.  24 Am J1st Grand J § 2[2]

1. A body whose number varies with the jurisdiction, never less than 6 nor more than 23, whose duty is to determine whether probable cause exits to return indictments against persons accused of committing crimes.  The right to indictment by grand jury is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. [3]

     Excerpt from George J. Edwards Jr.’s The Grand Jury, an Essay (1906):

     “Strictly speaking there is no obscurity surrounding the origin of the ‘grand jury,’ for it was not until the 42 a year of the reign of Edward lll (A.D. 1368) that the modern practice of returning a panel of twenty-four men to inquire for the county was established and this body then received the name ‘le graunde inquest.’  Prior to this time the accusing body was known only as an inquest or jury, and was summoned in each hundred by the bailiffs to present offences occurring in that hundred.  When, therefore, this method of proceeding was enlarged by the sheriff returning a panel of twenty-four knights to inquire of and present offences for the county at large, we see the inception of the grand jury of the present day. But while it is true that our grand jury was first known to England in the time of Edward the Third, it is nevertheless not true that it was an institution of Norman origin or transplanted into England by the Normans. [4]

     Excerpt from Frank W. Miller et al.’s Cases and Materials on Criminal Justice Administration (3d ed. 1986):

     “The grand jury serves -or may serve -two distinct functions.  One is a screening function; the grand jury evaluates evidence supporting possible charges and returns an indictment only in those cases in which the evidence amounts to at least probable cause.  The other is an investigatorial function; the grand jury sometimes develops information that is of value in determining whether grounds for a charge exist and — perhaps incidentally — in proving that charge at the defendant’s later criminal trial. [5]

investigative grand jury:

1. A grand jury whose primary function is to examine possible crimes and develop evidence not currently available to the prosecution. — aka investigatory grand jury.

runaway grand jury:

1. A, grand jury that acts essentially in opposition to the prosecution, as by calling its own witnesses, perversely failing to return an indictment that the prosecution has requested, or returning an indictment that the prosecution did not request.

screening grand jury:

1. A grand jury whose primary function is to decide whether to issue an indictment. 

special grand jury:

1. A grand jury specially summoned, usually when the regular grand jury either has already been discharged or has not been drawn; a grand jury with limited authority. — aka additional grand jury; extraordinary grand jury. [1]

1. A grand jury summoned for the purpose of hearing a particular case. [3]

bill of indictment – an instrument containing a criminal charge, presented to a grand jury by a prosecutor, used by the jury to determine if there’s enough evidence to formally charge the accused with a crime.  After it is found and all the blanks are filled in, it is called an “indictment.”

indictment – a formal written accusation of a felony, made by a grand jury and presented to a court for prosecution against the accused person.

true bill – an indorsement that a grand jury enters onto a bill of indictment when it indicts a criminal defendant; by writing “true bill” on the bill, the determination that a criminal charge should go before a petty jury for trial is officially indorsed by the grand jury. — aka billa vera.

no bill – an indorsement by a grand jury on a bill of indictment, indicating “not found” or “not a true bill”; the party is then discharged without further answer. A grand jury may instead write “not found,” “not a true bill,” or “ignoramus” to indicate the same thing.


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[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition by Jack Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: George J. Edwards Jr., The Grand Jury, an Essay 2 (1906).

[5]: Frank W. Miller et al., Cases and Materials on Criminal Justice Administration 546 (3d ed. 1986).


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