Grand Jury: Impaneled, Investigation, and Indictment

You probably read in the news that a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, impaneled a grand jury as part of an investigation into interference by a foreign power (Russia) in the US elections and whether members of Trump’s administration and family violated the law.  You probably also read that the grand jury might indict people suspected of crimes.


When a grand jury is impaneled, it just means that the grand jury is formed.  The special prosecutor, Mr. Mueller, formed the grand jury to assist in his investigation.  Grand jury proceedings are not public.


The grand jury helps a prosecutor acquire evidence.  By issuing subpoenas, the grand jury can help the prosecutor obtain documents.  In addition, the grand jury can compel witnesses to testify.

In practice, the investigation is conducted by the prosector.  It would be unusual for a grand jury, which is comprised of ordinary citizens, to manage an investigation into a crime.  The prosecutor takes the lead in directing how to conduct the investigation  and the grand jury supports the investigation by issuing subpoenas.  A prosecutor will make sure the grand jury understands the evidence that he and the grand jury are gathering, in the hopes of securing an indictment from the grand jury.


Grand juries determine whether there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime.  If there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, a majority or 2/3 of the grand jury members will “indict” the accused person.  In practice, this means that the grand jury foreperson will sign a document listing the charges against the accused person which can be presented to a court.

Indictment does not mean the person charged is guilty of a crime.  But it does mean that the grand jury approves the government accusing the person of a crime.

Difference Between a Jury and a Grand Jury

Grand juries are called grand juries because they are larger than petit juries. Petit juries have up to 12 people.

  •  Petit juries determine whether a defendant is guilty in a criminal trial.  Grand juries determine whether there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime.
  • Before charging a defendant with a serious federal  crime, the Constitution guarantees a person the right to a grand jury.  Not all states use the grand jury system.
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