Grand Juries and Indictments
You’ve probably heard the words “grand juries” and “indictments” on the nightly news or crime television dramas. Though you probably know it’s in reference to a crime, you may be unsure of the legal purpose they both serve.
An indictment is not a conviction, but rather a formal accusation that a certain person committed a specific crime. Indictments are written statements from a grand jury during a pre-trial hearing. It is important to know that grand juries operate drastically differently than traditional juries.
A grand jury will assess evidence with only the prosecuting attorney and decide whether criminal charges need to be filed or not. In a grand jury hearing, the defendant doesn’t have to be present at all. In fact, the defendant may not ever be notified for the court date of the hearing.
Houston Attorney for Grand Jury Hearings in Texas
Are you currently being investigated for a crime? Have you been notified that a grand jury was gathered to discuss a possible indictment? It is important that you now what can happen next. An indictment could lead to an arrest and a trial.
Attorney Brian Benken is an experienced attorney who has over 30 years of experience. He has years of knowledge handling trials or investigations that involve grand jury hearings. Additionally, Brian Benken is ready to challenge a grand jury selection if he sees the need. Gain a legal partner in this stressful time. Contact Brian Benken for an attorney who will go to battle for you.
The Benken Law Firm represents clients throughout all parts of Harris County and surrounding communities including Greenspoint, Westchase, Alief, River Oaks, and Meyerland.
Get in contact with us now at (713) 223 - 4051 to schedule a free consultation.
Overview for Grand Juries and Indictments
- Differences Between a Jury and Grand Jury
- Differences Between an Indictment and a Complaint
- Contents of an Indictment
- Qualifications of a Juror
- The Defense’s Role
- Additional Resources
What are the Differences Between a Grand Jury and a Jury in Texas?
It can be easy to interchange the terms “jury” and “grand jury.” However, this is legally incorrect. A jury is a panel of 12 jurors in a criminal or civil trial. Grand juries are also composed of 12 jurors but are mostly reserved for serious felony criminal trials. While a jury decides the outcome of a trial, a grand jury decides if a certain person should be indicted for a crime.
The term indictment may seem familiar, but is not the same as a conviction. An indictment is the first phase of a criminal trial. It details incriminating information and a written confirmation by a grand jury that a prosecutor may file criminal charges. So in other words, a traditional jury decides the end of a trial and a grand jury decides if a trial should happen at all.
During a jury trial, the jurors must all make a unanimous decision to give the defendant a verdict. In contrast, a grand jury only needs nine members to concur in the bill for an indictment to be granted. Another defining factor of a grand jury trial is the absence of objections and challenges. The defense can only challenge a grand jury selection before all grand jurors have been impaneled.
In addition, a grand jury proceeding operates differently than a jury trial. In a jury trial all parties are allowed in the room, which includes the defense team. A grand jury, however, is held in secret. A defendant may petition a court to order the disclosure of any typewritten transcriptions of the hearing, but they are not present in the room. The only people allowed in a grand jury room includes:
- The grand jurors;
- The State attorney;
- Any witnesses to be examined;
- Interpreters, if necessary;
- A stenographer;
- A person operating a video teleconferencing system.
Grand jurors are the only ones allowed in the room during deliberation or voting.
What are the Differences Between a Indictment and a Complaint in Texas?
A grand jury hearing is one of the first proceedings in a criminal trial, if it’s used. It’s not a requirement to have an indictment from a grand jury to criminally charge a person from a crime. The prosecution of a criminal action requires the filing of a complaint or an indictment.
A criminal complaint is a written statement made by a credible person before a magistrate or district or county attorney. An indictment, on the other hand, is a written statement by a grand jury that accuses a person of a criminal act.
Contents of an Indictment in Harris County, Texas
An indictment is required to contain the following information:
- State all the elements of the offense charged;
- Accuse the defendant of actions that constitute a crime;
- Through intelligible words particularize the act charged for the protection of a defendant’s right against double jeopardy; or
- Give the defendant notice of their criminal charges so that he or she can properly prepare a defense.
Qualifications for a Grand Juror in Texas
A person may be selected to serve as a grand juror if he or she meets the following requirements:
- Is at least 18 years of age;
- Isa citizen of the United States;
- Is a resident of Texas and Harris County;
- Qualified to vote under the constitution (you do not need to be registered to vote to serve as a grand juror, just qualified)
- Has a sound mind and good moral character;
- Can read and write;
- Has no prior conviction for a theft misdemeanor or felonies;
- Is not currently under indictment or other legal accusation;
- Has no relations to any persons also serving on the same grand jury;
- Has not served as a grand juror in the last year;
- Is not a complainant in any matter to be heard by the same grand jury.
Objections to Grand Jurors in Harris County, Texas
Although grand jury proceedings must be in secret, the defense does have opportunities to challenge. The defense may raise grand jury issues during the actual selection of the grand jury or motion to set aside the indictment itself.
For a defense attorney to challenge to “array,” they may only do so for two reasons. One is that the defense states that the grand jurors were not in fact selected properly. The second would be that the officer who summoned the grand jurors acted corruptly in summoning one or more of them.
A skilled defense attorney can also file a motion to set aside the indictment. For the defense to file this motion they must prove the following:
- That the indictment was not found by nine grand jurors;
- That the indictment elements was not based on a valid complaint;
- That another person who is not authorized by law was present during the grand jury proceedings or grand jury voting process; or
- That the grand jury was illegally impaneled and the defense did not have an opportunity to challenge the array during the summons process.
Texas Grand Jury Proceedings – Visit the official website for Texas Code for Criminal Procedures and find more information surrounding grand juries. Learn more about how grand juries vote, how an indictment is prepared, how witnesses are questioned, and more.
Grand Jury Form – Visit the official website for Texas courts and judicial branch and gain access to a model potential grand jury form and questionnaire. Find more information on how grand jurors are selected and how to be excused from grand jury service.
Lawyer for Grand Juries and Indictments in Texas
If you or someone you know has been investigated for a criminal act, it is important you act now. The prosecution may call a grand jury and write an indictment for criminal charges. With the help of a skilled attorney, you can challenge grand juror selection or start your defense now.
Attorney Brian Benken is experienced in criminal Texas courts. He has over 30 years of legal knowledge and has represented numerous clients who have been criminally charged. Brian Benken practices law throughout all parts of Harris County including Gulfton, Midtown, Alief, and Magnolia Park.
Have some peace of mind today. Call Brian Benken at (713) 223 - 4051 for your free consultation.
This article was last updated on October 12, 2018.