Juries play a very important role in the criminal justice process. Most people with even a cursory understanding of the domestic criminal justice system understand that those who are accused of a criminal offense have a right to either have their case heard by a judge or by a jury of their peers.

The right to trial by jury is an important one for the safety of criminal defendants and the neutrality of the court system. Prosecutors and defense attorneys can influence who ends up on a jury by asking careful questions and intentionally excluding those who may have a bias.

What people often don’t realize is that there could be more than one jury that will have an influence on a criminal case. There will often be both a grand jury and a trial jury. What are the differences between these two different bodies?

Grand juries review evidence to bring indictments

The purpose of a grand jury is to validate a prosecutor’s assertion that they have sufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges. Like a criminal jury, a Washington grand jury will consist of 12 individuals selected to hear the details related to a criminal event. However, the grand jurors don’t directly decide the future of the people involved in the investigation but rather the next steps taken by the state.

The state will present its case in detail, and the grand jury will review the available evidence and determine if the state can pursue criminal charges against specific individuals. When the grand jury hands down an indictment, then the state will actively pursue criminal charges against the accused parties.

Trial juries judge guilt or innocence

During a criminal trial, the trial jury of 12 adults seated to oversee the process will eventually review the same evidence that the grand jury saw. However, their job is to think very carefully about whether that evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused actually broke the law. The decision by that jury will determine whether someone ends up exonerated or convicted.

Both grand juries and trial juries play a major role in the criminal justice process. Learning more about the individuals who influence the outcome of someone’s trial will benefit those who are hoping to put together a viable criminal defense strategy.