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A grand jury is an important part of the criminal justice system

A grand jury can be a key part of the criminal justice system, even though it doesn't function like a criminal trial jury and render a verdict. Instead, a grand jury consists of people who are selected by government officials and are asked to decide whether criminal charges should be filed against a potential defendant after viewing evidence that has been collected. A grand jury usually investigates felony crimes and not common misdemeanors. A grand jury can have as many as 16 to 23 members, while a traditional criminal court jury has between six and 12.

Since a grand jury proceeding is not the same as a trial, it is not as formal as a courtroom trial. There is usually only one lawyer present, a prosecutor, and there is no judge or defense attorney. There is no cross examination and no judgments are handed down. Instead, the prosecution explains the necessary tenants of the law to the grand jury and then evidence and witness testimony are presented. A grand jury is a closed procedure, meaning that everything that goes on during the hearing stays in that room and the members of the grand jury cannot divulge anything about it. This is so any witnesses can speak freely and so that a defendant's reputation is not damaged if the grand jury chooses not to indict them.

Unlike a courtroom trial, a grand jury does not need agreement from every member to render a decision, but instead relies on either a consensus by two thirds or three quarters of the members. And even if the grand jury decides not to indict a defendant, the prosecution can still charge the defendant if it believes that it's necessary.

If a grand jury decides to indict an individual, then it's possible that the criminal trial for this case will begin earlier than a traditional criminal trial. However, any Maryland resident who may be facing criminal charges may want to speak with a criminal defense attorney in order to discover if a grand jury will play a part in their criminal case.

Source: criminal.findlaw.com, "How does a grand jury work?" Accessed September 18, 2016

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