In criminal cases, there are two types of juries. These each serve a different purpose but are both important to the process. It is helpful to understand the differences so that you have a better idea of what is going on.
There is a chance that some criminal matters will require both of these juries to participate in the case, but others may have only one or even none. The circumstances of the case determine which juries are needed.
The grand jury
The grand jury is the larger of these two types. It is made of 23 members who serve long-term periods, often months at a time. This jury is responsible for looking at the case that the prosecutor has and determining whether it is likely to stand up during a jury trial.
The process used during the grand jury proceedings is a very relaxed one. Witnesses who are called are instructed to speak freely as the information shared is confidential. This is done to protect the witnesses who may have to testify at a jury trial, but also so that the defendant is protected if no charges are brought against them.
The grand jury doesn’t decide if a person is guilty or not guilty. Instead, they let the prosecutor know if they choose to indict or not. The prosecutor isn’t bound by their decision, so they can bring charges if there isn’t an indictment or choose to drop a case even if there is one.
The trial jury
The trial jury is the one that decides whether a person is guilty or not. They do this after hearing the information presented by both sides. The small jury, often made of only six to 12 people, must only convict if they can do so beyond a reasonable doubt. Typically, they will only serve for one trial instead of having a long-term appointment.
The procedures for the trial jury are strict. They must not allow anything other than the evidence presented at the trial to determine their decision. This is the reason why the jury is sometimes sequestered, or kept away from the public and media reports, when they are hearing a case. A tainted jury can lead to a dismissal.
For those dealing with a criminal matter, there are many things that can come into the picture when dealing with these two jury types. Learning your rights in Massachusetts and finding out what options you have for your case might be beneficial.