Maryland Federal Grand Jury
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that you be indicted before a grand jury before you can be charged with an “infamous” or capital crime. This amendment has been interpreted to require an indictment before you are charged with any federal felony crime, unless you waive your right to indictment. While a state prosecutor does not always have to convene a grand jury before charging you with a crime, a U.S. attorney does have to go through this process before you can be put on trial for any federal felony offense. If you are the subject of a federal investigation, or you are arrested for a federal crime, you need to consult with a Maryland federal lawyer about the process and what your legal options are.
How Does a Federal Grand Jury Work?
Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure establishes the requirements for grand jury proceedings. A federal grand jury is made up of between 16 and 23 jurors. These jury members meet periodically, and when a U.S. Attorney wants to bring charges for a federal crime, the federal prosecutor must book time with the grand jury. At least 16 jurors must be present for the grand jury to convene, and a foreperson and a deputy foreperson must be appointed when a grand jury is impaneled.
The federal prosecutor will present evidence to a grand jury of the crime that was allegedly committed. The proceedings are less formal than a typical court trial and are kept 100 percent confidential in order to allow witnesses to speak freely and to protect the reputation of a defendant who is not indicted.
Typical rules of evidence don’t apply in a grand jury proceeding. Grand juries can subpoena physical evidence, such as videotapes, relevant e-mails and other documents, and guns or weapons allegedly used in the commission of a crime. Witnesses may also be subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury. DEA agents, FBI agents, and other federal investigators or law enforcement officers frequently testify before a grand jury, as do eyewitnesses. Witnesses are not allowed to bring an attorney into the grand jury room but can have a federal lawyer present in the hallway whom they can confer with.
Typically, only a prosecutor is present at a grand jury proceeding and the grand jury proceedings are even kept secret from the defendant. A defendant whom the grand jury was convened to indict may sometimes have the opportunity to testify but is not required to do so. If a defendant testifies at a grand jury proceeding, the defense attorney is not allowed to ask questions. The prosecutor can interrogate the defendant, and the grand jury can submit questions for the prosecutor to ask.
Legal instructions are read to the jurors at the end of the proceedings, and the jury can vote to indict or not. The decision to indict does not need to be unanimous; only 12 jurors must vote to indict. If the jury chooses to indict, the indictment is called a “true bill.”
What Does the Federal Grand Jury Process Mean for You?
The federal grand jury process can have a huge impact on your life, because an indictment means that a federal case against you can proceed to criminal trial. Unfortunately, you have little actual ability to influence the outcome of the grand jury proceedings, since only a prosecutor can present evidence, and you may not know what information is presented during grand jury proceedings.
It is still important to have a Maryland federal criminal lawyer for many reasons. Your attorney can:
- Argue for bail. You could be arrested before or after an indictment. Your attorney can argue that you should be released on bond so you do not have to wait in jail for the government to indict or for your trial to be concluded.
- Advise you on whether to waive a grand jury. You can waive a grand jury proceeding to avoid being held in jail while waiting for an indictment. A Maryland federal lawyer familiar with grand juries will advise you on when it is strategically wise to waive these proceedings.
- Argue that an indictment is invalid because it does not contain facts showing that you committed the crime you have been charged with or because it does not contain all of the elements of the offense you have been charged with.
- Advise you on how to plead. After your indictment, you will be arraigned and informed of the charges contained in the indictment. You want to be prepared for this hearing and have an attorney advising you.
Hiring a Maryland Federal Lawyer
As soon as an indictment is issued against you, your lawyer will begin the trial preparation process or will begin negotiating a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. Contact a Maryland federal lawyer if you are under investigation or have been indicted, so you can get the legal advice you need to make informed choices about responding to federal criminal charges.