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Criminal defense: what is a grand jury and what does it do?

Anyone accused of a crime in New York may feel scared and confused, especially if they are facing serious charges and a potential trial. A criminal defense attorney can be the best source of information for individuals in such situations, but it is important to do all you can to educate yourself about the criminal court process and your rights. Today we are going to look at the grand jury process, which in New York will take place if a person is charged with a felony crime.

After an individual is arraigned -- that is, charged with a crime -- and the crime is a felony, then that individual's case will go before a grand jury of 23 citizens. The prosecution will present evidence against the accused to the grand jury and provide them with information about the legal charges. The grand jury may also conduct its own investigation into the crime.

Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public. An Assistant District Attorney provides the grand jury with legal advice and examines all witnesses -- both the prosecution's and the defense's -- who provide testimony. In order for the grand jury to hear evidence or perform any other sort of legal action, a minimum of 16 jurors must be present. In addition, of the jurors who hear evidence, a minimum of 12 of them must be in agreement in order for any affirmative action to take place.

If the grand jury determines that a sufficient amount of evidence exists and that there is reasonable cause that the accused allegedly committed a crime, an indictment will be filed, and the criminal trial process will continue. If the grand jury determines there is insufficient evidence that the accused committed a crime, the case is dismissed.

This is only a general overview of what role the grand jury plays in the criminal trial process. In the end, those accused of felony crimes who may be facing a grand jury may want to seek legal representation before proceeding.

Source: The New York County District Attorney's Office, "Criminal Justice System: How it Works," accessed May 23, 2016

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