Grand juries a complex, but necessary legal avenue

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 23, 2003

A grand jury generally meets every month in the Dallas County Courthouse. Eighteen men and women spend two days, sometimes more, listening to law enforcement officers and witnesses while reviewing evidence for 50 to 60 cases.

But what is a grand jury?

According to Dallas County District Attorney Ed Greene, grand juries exist to determine the validity of criminal cases. They determine if cases merit public time and money jury trials require.

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Greene prepares cases presented to grand juries, but the juries have the power to indict.

These independent bodies are &uot;the conscience of the community,&uot; Greene said. They determine the standards of law and order the community lives by through their indictment choices. Greene said grand juries are the community’s sword and shield; they mete out justice to the guilty and protect the innocent from unjust accusations.

But how?

Greene &045;&045; as district attorney &045;&045; is charged with presenting cases to the grand juries, drafting indictments and completing necessary clerical work. Grand jury’s find probable cause.

Grand juries and trial juries have different standards. Grand juries must only meet probable cause for handing down an indictment; trial juries must go beyond reasonable doubt.

After hearing testimony, the grand jury has three options &045;&045; true bill, no bill or continue. True billing means the grand jury found probable cause and chose to send the case to the next judicial step. No billing means probable cause wasn’t found.

People in jail walk free if a no bill is determined in their case, Greene said.

Continuing a case gives the grand jury more time to find evidence and to postpone making a decision.

Indictment requires the nod of 12 people on the grand jury. If obtained, the grand jury foreman must sign the charge in open court and from there it travels to a clerk where an arrest warrant is filed &045;&045; that is, if the defendant hasn’t yet been apprehended.

Selection of grand juries is similar to that of trial juries. Usually a jury pool is sifted through by attorneys. They eliminate some and choose others. Grand juries are picked at the same time, Greene said.

Trial juries, though, usually only take two or three days before jurors are through with their obligations. Grand jury members gather at the courthouse three times a year before their duties are completed.

Dallas County grand jurors must be residents of the county as well as United States citizens. Jurors must also meet age requirements.

Greene said the concept of grand juries began with English common law. Citizens with good community reputations would meet and make judgments about area issues.