You might know a thing or two about grand juries even if you have never been tasked to appear before one. Movies and television crime dramas often refer to or feature grand juries in action. They play a key and distinct role in the American justice system, and certainly in Colorado.
Grand juries operate in Colorado at both the state and federal levels. One authoritative legal source on criminal defense representation notes that, “In federal courts, a defendant must be indicted by a grand jury before charges can be brought.”
Many readers of criminal law topics – and even some attorneys not well versed in the criminal sphere – don’t fully grasp the purpose of a grand jury.
And that is understandable. Grand jury proceedings are closed and essentially private affairs to a far greater degree than is the case with jury trials. Moreover, their purpose is fundamentally different. Grand jury basics are sketched immediately below.
What does that grand jury subpoena signify?
If you have a grand jury subpoena or so-called “target letter” from the government in hand, you unquestionably need to pay closest attention.
You also need to take quick measures to protect yourself and legally safeguard your rights, a point that the above-cited legal source underscores. It stresses that a grand jury appearance has a notably direct and narrow focus.
That is this: If you are before a grand jury, “it is either because the government believes you are a witness to criminal activities or because the government is trying to gather evidence to prosecute you.”
Neither of those scenarios is potentially very attractive, obviously.
Nor is this, as noted in one in-depth overview of grand juries: Prosecutors invoke grand jury proceedings as “test-runs for trials.” In doing so, they operate in a manner markedly different from what is allowed at a jury trial. A grand jury is set off by these key attributes:
- Much greater interaction among prosecutors and jurors
- Expanded license granted to jurors to view and consider all types of evidence (evidence rules “permit much more evidence than is allowed at a criminal trial”)
- Jurors’ ability to interrogate parties that might be off limits for questioning at a trial
- No allowance for attorney assistance during proceedings for any person testifying
How defense counsel can help re a grand jury appearance
A defense lawyer or legal team cannot be physically present on behalf of a person testifying before a federal grand jury. However, practiced defense attorneys can still provide invaluable assistance to a client, which includes input like the following:
- Rendering advice on the process, which can promote familiarity and confidence
- Negotiating for governmental immunities
- Anticipating prosecutorial inquiries and preparing testimony in advance
- Helping an individual prepare his or her testimony
A grand jury proceeding can often and understandably seem to be materially complex and risk laden. A proven legal team’s candid advice and diligent representation can go far toward explaining the process and promoting an optimal outcome for an individual slated to offer testimony.