Grand Jury vs Trial Jury
Difference between Grand Jury and Trial Jury can be seen in the purpose and function of each jury. However, many of us tend to assume that the terms Grand Jury and Trial Jury both refer to a panel of jurors present in a trial. While it is true that the two terms constitute a panel of jurors, the purpose and function of each jury differs immensely. Thus, they are terms that cannot be used synonymously or interchangeably. The term Grand Jury tends to mislead many of us particularly due to the Grand part of it. We assume its function or purpose is on a higher level than that of a Trial Jury. However, this is inaccurate. Perhaps a simple explanation of these two terms will help to illustrate the difference.
What is Grand Jury?
Generally, the Grand Jury represents the first step towards a criminal trial. It is defined in law as a panel of citizens that is convened by a court to determine whether the prosecution or government can file a case against a person suspected of a crime. A Grand Jury is typically composed of 16- 23 people, nominated or appointed from a list by a judge. The primary goal of the Grand Jury is to work in cooperation with the prosecution to determine if a person may or may not be indicted or formally charged with a crime. This typically entails viewing evidence and hearing the testimony of witnesses. The prosecutor will first explain the law to the panel of jurors. Thereafter, the Jury has the power to view any kind of evidence and question any person they wish. The Grand Jury is, for this reason, much more relaxed than a courtroom jury. This is because they are allowed to examine any amount of evidence, more than what is allowed at a criminal trial, and these jury proceedings are not open to the public. Further, the suspect (Defendant) and his/her attorney are not present. Also, these proceedings are not carried out in front of a judge. The decision of a Grand Jury need not be unanimous, but it must be by a two-third majority. This decision adopts either a “true bill” status or “no true bill” status. The reason behind the privacy and confidentiality of these proceedings is to encourage witnesses to present their testimony freely and without inhibition, and to protect the suspect if the Jury decides not to indict.
What is Trial Jury?
A Trial Jury refers to that group of people we often see in courtroom dramas seated in two rows. They are a panel of jurors selected from the general population to hear a lawsuit or criminal prosecution. Their ultimate goal is to either deliver a verdict of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ in a criminal trial, or determine if the plaintiff is entitled to claim compensation from the defendant in a civil trial. Trials by Jury are open to the public, and the Trial Jury is entrusted with the responsibility of delivering a verdict based on the facts of a case. It is typically composed of 6-12 people. Traditionally, a Trial Jury was known as a Petit Jury, a French term that is interpreted to mean small. Unlike a Grand Jury, a Trial Jury adheres to a very strict procedure. There is a judge present together with the parties to the case and their attorneys who each presents their case to the judge and jury. Further, a Trial Jury is not entitled to call for any type of evidence and rarely has the opportunity to pose questions to the parties. Typically, the verdict of a Trial Jury must be unanimous.
What is the difference between Grand Jury and Trial Jury?
• A Trial Jury is required to determine if the defendant is guilty or not guilty beyond reasonable doubt. A Grand Jury, however, is tasked with deciding if there is probable cause to indict a person believed to have committed a crime.
• A Trial Jury proceeding is open to the public while a Grand Jury proceeding is private.
• Trial Jury members typically serve only for a particular case. Grand Jury members, on the other hand, serve for a term that usually coincides with the term of a court.
• Grand Juries are larger in that they are composed of 16-23 people while a Trial Jury consists of 6-12 people.
• The decision of a Trial Jury is final. In contrast, if the prosecutor is not satisfied with the decision of the Grand Jury for some reason, then the prosecutor can take other steps.
Images Courtesy: Jury via Wikicommons (Public Domain)