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The Grand Jury Process

Sven D. Wiberg

If you are being investigated for an alleged crime, you may want the help of a New Hampshire criminal defense attorney to explain the process and protect your rights, especially if you have been subpoenaed to appear at a grand jury hearing.

The grand jury is a necessary step for the prosecution of felonies, since a felony trial cannot occur without an indictment (a charging document returned by a grand jury). The United States Constitution, in the language of the Fifth Amendment, requires this step: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury . . .”

The grand jury is like the jury you see in crime dramas on TV and in the movies, but its function and procedures are significantly different. For example, the grand jury sits in secret, there is no judge present, and the only other people allowed in the room are the prosecutor and his witnesses called one at a time. It is a very one-sided affair. Defendants can be called to testify, but they usually are not even notified of the process until they are indicted. If they are called, they can bring an attorney, but that attorney is not allowed into the room while the defendant (or “target”) is questioned. Likewise, other witnesses called before a grand jury can have an attorney outside the room.

The Beginning

While you are waiting outside the room, you will be summoned by a prosecutor. Once inside the grand jury room, you will be directed to sit or stand in front of the jurors. There will be a court reporter recording the hearing.

Your Testimony

After you are sworn to tell the truth, you will be advised that you are under oath and may face criminal penalties if you perjure yourself or make any false statements. You can refuse to answer a question if you are afraid it would incriminate you, and you will be allowed some time to consult with your attorney during questioning if you request it.

The questions you are asked will be similar to those asked at deposition or an actual trial, but you will not have the safety of a New Hampshire criminal defense attorney to object to improper questions or a judge to make sure to keep the prosecutor in line. In theory, the prosecutor needs to get enough information to establish a prima facie case (minimal facts establishing each element of the alleged crime) against the intended target. In practice, the grand jury almost always returns “a true bill” (an indictment signed by the grand jury foreperson) which is forwarded to the clerk of court to officially begin the criminal case and to notify the newly minted defendant.

A New Hampshire Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

If you have more questions about what will happen at a grand jury hearing, contact New Hampshire criminal defense attorney Sven Wiberg for an initial consultation.