What Is a Grand Jury?
April 15, 2015
Marc Wabafiyebazu, a Canadian diplomat’s son, was arrested recently after a shooting. The 15-year-old and his 17-year-old brother called drug dealers to buy two pounds of marijuana. A shootout followed, during which the older brother and a 17-year-old suspected drug dealer were killed. A grand jury will convene to determine whether to bring formal charges against Wabafiyebazu, who was arrested on felony murder charges.
In Florida, a grand jury is an agency of the court, usually a circuit court but sometimes the Florida Supreme Court in the case of a statewide grand jury, that investigates, reports, and accuses. Grand juries are composed of a specified number of citizens, summoned and empaneled by a judge. A grand jury can determine whether there is probable cause that a person committed a crime, and if so, indict the suspect. An indictment is a formal accusation against a person, which brings the person to trial.
When Are Grand Juries Used?
The Florida Constitution requires that if a person is to be tried for a capital crime, meaning a crime such as murder for which the prosecution is seeking the death penalty, a grand jury indictment is required. In other cases, the state attorney will usually initiate criminal charges. Grand juries may indict in other instances as well, but are not often used for lesser crimes so as not to overwhelm them with the high volume of indictments.
Grand juries are also often used in controversial cases, such as in a case of alleged wrongdoing by a public official. They can also investigate and report on matters involving the public welfare, even if no criminal charges are brought.
Statewide grand juries are to be used in matters of organized crime involving more than one county. The statewide grand jury act is intended to improve the ability to gather evidence across county lines.
Who Can Serve on a Grand Jury?
To be summoned and empaneled as a grand juror, a person must be a citizen of the U.S., a legal resident of both Florida and the relevant county, and over 18. Grand juries are empaneled according to their place of residence, so a juror will serve on a grand jury for his or her local circuit court. Grand jury hearings are conducted at the courthouse of the jury’s county of residence.
Grand juries are composed of between 15 and 21 jurors, or, in the case of a statewide grand jury, 18 jurors. The jury is appointed for one term of court, which usually lasts for five to six months. A statewide grand jury may last from twelve to eighteen months. In order to indict a suspect, 12 jurors must concur. Grand juries are not in continuous session, but rather are called when needed.
If you have been arrested for a crime, a dedicated attorney can help you understand the workings of the legal system and how or whether you will be indicted. Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.