How Do Grand Juries Work In Florida?
There are two legal mechanisms by which a person can be charged with a crime in Florida: information or indictment. An information is a charging document issued by a prosecutor, i.e., a Florida State Attorney. An indictment, on the other hand, is issued by a legal body known as the grand jury.
A grand jury is not the same thing as a trial jury. A trial jury decides a defendant’s guilt or innocence with respect to a charged offense. And guilt requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The grand jury, in contrast, only decides if there is “probable cause” to hold the defendant for trial. In most cases, the State Attorney decides whether to initiate a case by filing an information or seeking an indictment from a grand jury. Indictment is only required in capital (death penalty) cases.
Your Rights Before a Grand Jury
Grand juries are composed of 15 to 21 persons. In Florida, they typically sit intermittently for a five- or six-month term. Unlike a trial jury, which must be unanimous, only 12 grand jurors need to agree to an indictment. Grand juries can also investigate and report allegations of official misconduct without issuing formal indictments.
Perhaps the most notable feature of a grand jury is its secrecy. While criminal trials are usually conducted in public, everything about a grand jury’s proceedings is done behind closed doors. No media coverage is allowed, and grand jurors are prohibited by law from discussing the “nature and substance” of their deliberations or vote. Witness testimony before a grand jury is also kept secret, except in certain narrowly defined circumstances.
As the potential target of a grand jury, you also have much more limited rights than you do when on trial. You do have the right to appear before a grand jury and testify in your own defense. But if you are subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury, anything you say cannot be used against you at trial.
Critically, you do not have the right to present other evidence to the grand jury. Nor can you (or your attorney) cross-examine any witnesses who testify before the grand jury. In practice, the grand jury is run by the State Attorney. And in many cases, you may be indicted before you are placed under arrest or even made aware of an investigation.
Conversely, if you are charged by information rather than indictment, you do have the right to ask for a preliminary hearing to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence against you. The goal of the preliminary hearing is the same as a grand jury indictment–to determine if there is probable cause to detain you for trial. But a preliminary hearing is held before a judge and you have the right to be present and cross-examine any of the prosecution’s witnesses who testify.
Contact Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer Jose Baez Today
If you are facing indictment or information and need representation from a qualified Orlando criminal defense attorney, contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule an initial consultation.