The best way to describe what a Grand Jury is is to start by stating what it is not. It is not a jury trial. It’s not a jury of one’s peers. They do not meet in public, and they do not decide an accused person’s guilt or innocence. In Illinois, it’s a group of 12 to 16 people that hear about investigations. In a Grand Jury proceeding, only the prosecutor, the Grand Jurors, and a court reporter are present to hear the witnesses the prosecutor calls to the witness stand one at a time.
The accused has no right to be there to hear and see the proceedings, no right to present witnesses at the proceedings, or a right to have a lawyer present for the accused at the proceedings. In fact, since proceedings are secret, you have no right to know when they are meeting much less know what they are discussing until much later after one has been charged and must stand trial for a felony offense.
The Grand Jury is empowered to investigate felony cases and decide whether to approve the State’s Attorneys’ Office charging someone with a felony offense or offenses. A Grand Jury is also empowered to send subpoenas for witnesses and/or documents for investigative review. A Grand Jury is a very powerful weapon in the hands of a prosecutor.
The Grand Jury can be used to override a judge’s decision of “No Probable Cause” at the end of a Preliminary Hearing and charge someone with felony offenses.