Both the United States Constitution and the Ohio Constitution specify that citizens cannot be brought to trial for a crime categorized as a felony offense unless a Grand Jury hands down what is called an indictment. In order to pursue an indictment on a felony charge in Ohio, the prosecutor is required to utilize a grand jury.
A grand jury is simply a group of citizens selected randomly for court service and given the task of determining whether a person should be charged with a crime, and if so, what crime or crimes should be charged. The requirement of indictment by a grand jury for a felony offense helps ensure that no one is subjected to trial on false, baseless or spiteful accusations. The grand jury process was designed to act as a check on the prosecutorial power of the government.
The primary function of the grand jury is to hear testimony and review evidence. Typically, only the prosecutor’s side is presented, and grand juries almost always return indictments. The proceedings are secret. The prosecuting attorney convenes the grand jury and presents the government’s side of the case to the grand jury. If the grand jury determines that a crime has been committed, then they return indictments, which are simply the charging documents setting forth crime and naming the persons accused. The prosecuting attorney files the indictment in common pleas court.
Grand juries do not decide the merits of the case, and they do not make a determination of guilt or innocence. Grand jury indictment is only the beginning of the legal process for criminal offenses. A grand jury can decide that charges are warranted that differ from the original charges filed at the municipal court level. They may determine that more charges or fewer charges are applicable. They may even hand down indictments on misdemeanors as well as felonies.
In rare cases, a grand jury may decide that no charges are warranted. When they decide that no offense took place, this is called a “no-bill”.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, and are normally held without the presence of the suspect or his criminal defense lawyer. Indictments often remain secret until the accused person has been served with a copy of the charges. This is why the charges will not appear in the actual court records or on the online docket prior to the accused person being arrested and/or served with the indictments.
A criminal defendant can agree to forego the indictment process and answer directly to pre-determined charges at the felony level by allowing the prosecuting attorney to shortcut the legal process and skip the grand jury process by utilizing what is called a Bill of Information. A Bill of Information is a document setting forth the charge agreed upon in advance by the attorneys.
On rare occasions, the prosecution may use the grand jury process to investigate a particular crime and make the determination on a case where the prosecuting attorney either is not certain what it wants to do, or, for political reasons, wants to leave such a decision to a grand jury.
Lawyers are not permitted in the grand jury room during the process. However, a person called to testify before a grand jury may elect to take his or her criminal defense lawyer to the grand jury proceedings to be available for on-site advice in response to any questions asked by the grand jury.
If you have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and you believe that you may be held liable for any criminal act, it is extremely important to consult with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible in order to protect your rights and to prevent your own indictment. It may be necessary to invoke your right under the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution not to testify. Do not hesitate to contact us for information.
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