In the State of Michigan, grand jury proceedings are rarely used. However, the grand jury does play in important part in criminal proceedings. It’s just not the one we focus on: the guilt or innocence of a defendant or penalties imposed.
A grand jury will work with a criminal prosecutor to determine whether criminal charges or an indictment can be brought against a defendant. This procedure is usually for felonies and is usually one of the first procedures if it is used.
Michigan does have provisions in the law to allow for a grand jury. However, more often a preliminary hearing is used prior to criminal trials instead of a grand jury.
The differences between the two are: both types of procedures are used to determine whether there is enough evidence or probable cause to indict a criminal suspect.
Building a Case
What often happens in law enforcement is that investigators will build their case against a potential suspect. They are waiting for what they believe is enough evidence to convict.
Remember, they will only get one shot at trying to convict the person they have made a case against. So a preliminary hearing or a grand jury is the check and balance to keep just any person from being brought to court as a defendant. The state must be able to prove it has probable cause.
The Difference Between a Grand Jury and a Preliminary Hearing
One difference between and grand jury and a preliminary hearing is that a grand jury is more adversarial in nature.
However, a grand jury does not involve a judge or lawyers other than a prosecutor. Both of which are part of a preliminary hearing. Some court cases will get both a preliminary hearing and a grand jury. A defendant has to request a preliminary hearing and the court may decline the request.
Grand juries are more relaxed. Basically, the prosecutor explains the law to the jury, gathers evidence in the trial, and hears testimony. However, unlike preliminary hearings, grand jury proceedings are secret. They are held in strict confidence.
In addition, this is why they are sometimes warranted. If there are witnesses who are afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation, a grand jury may be preferred. Also, a grand jury does more to protect the reputation of a potential defendant if an indictment is not brought.
The Supermajority Decision
After all evidence and testimony is brought forward, a grand jury has to come to a supermajority decision – ⅔ or ¾ of jurors – to indict depending on the jurisdiction.
Even if a grand jury chooses not to indict, the prosecutor may still bring the defendant to trial, although it can often be a testing ground for whether the prosecutor’s case will win in court. A grand jury indictment also has the benefit for the prosecution of speeding the trial along.
In a preliminary hearing for a felony trial, the prosecutor has to convince a district judge that there’s enough evidence pointing to the defendant as having committed the crime. The judge can agree and send the case to circuit court for trial or dismiss the case.
In a vast majority of cases, this is the point at which prosecutors offer defendants a deal. The offer is to agree to plead guilty or no contest to the charges in exchange for a lesser penalty than if they are convicted of their charges in court.
While grand jury proceedings are relatively rare in Michigan, they can still be used if evidence needs to be kept secret or witnesses need to be protected before trial.
If you are facing court proceedings, call us today. We would be honored to help.