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Fifth Amendment

Grand Jury Clause

A grand jury is a group of citizens who are summoned to criminal court by the sheriff to consider accusations and complaints leveled against persons who are suspected of engaging in criminal conduct. Grand juries do not determine guilt or innocence. Instead, they determine whether PROBABLE CAUSE exists to believe that the accused has committed a crime, and they return an indictment (i.e., a formal charge against the accused) if they do find probable cause. In common law, a grand jury consisted of not fewer than 12, and not more than 23, men. Today, grand juries impaneled before a federal district court must consist of not fewer than 16, and not more than 23, men and women.

Potential jurors are usually drawn from lists of qualified residents. Persons who are below the age of majority, who have been convicted of certain crimes, who or are biased toward the accused are ineligible to serve as grand jurors.

The grand jury originated in England during the reign of HENRY II (1154–89). In 1166, a statute called the Assize of Clarendon was enacted. The assize provided that no person could be prosecuted unless four men from each township and 12 men from each hundred appeared before the county court to accuse the individual of a specific crime. This compulsory process, called a presenting jury, foreshadowed the grand jury as an accusatory body that identified individuals for prosecution but made no finding as to guilt or innocence.

As the grand jury system developed in England and colonial America, it protected innocent persons who faced unfounded charges initiated by political, religious, and personal adversaries. The impartiality of grand juries is essential. This is a significant reason why the proceedings are convened in secrecy; otherwise, public scrutiny and similar prejudicial influences could affect their decision-making process. Although grand juries must be impartial, accused persons have no constitutional right to present evidence on their behalf or to cross-examine witnesses, and HEARSAY evidence may be introduced against them.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Ex proprio motu (ex mero motu) to FileFifth Amendment - Double Jeopardy Clause, Self-incrimination Clause, Due Process Clause, Eminent Domain Clause, Grand Jury Clause