UNDERSTANDING GRAND JURIES
Grand Juries are composed of citizens randomly selected for jury duty. Unlike traditional juries that decide a person’s guilt or responsibility in a criminal or civil case, a grand jury hears witness testimony and reviews evidence to decide if there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate a crime may have been committed and a person should be charged (indicted) for that crime.
One key role of a grand jury is to help ensure charges are not politically motivated or influenced by the rich and powerful. In this case, both a Special Grand Jury and Regular Grand Jury (totaling more than 40 Georgia citizens) will have reviewed the evidence and determined there was evidence indicating a crime was committed before issuing an indictment.
Special Grand Jury vs. Regular Grand Jury: What's the Difference?
Both a Special Grand Jury and “regular” Grand Jury are made up of 23 Georgia citizens (plus 3 alternates) serving jury duty. A Regular Grand Jury generally serves for a set period (2-months in Fulton County), and it has the power to issue indictments (charges) after reviewing evidence for a given case. The case then goes to trial, where a jury can hear evidence and decide whether to convict someone of a crime.
A Special Grand Jury is called for more involved cases where more witnesses and evidence is expected. It is not limited by the 2-month period of a Regular Grand Jury. It has the power to collect evidence and subpoena witnesses to testify. In this case, the Fulton Special Grand Jury heard testimony and collected evidence for nearly 9 months.
A Special Grand Jury also does not issue indictments but instead delivers a report on its findings and recommendations for indictments to the Court, and may request that the District Attorney seek indictments for crimes the Special Grand Jury believes the evidence shows were committed. If the District Attorney (DA) decides to seek indictments, the DA then brings the case and findings of the Special Grand Jury before a new Regular Grand Jury. The Regular Grand Jury then reviews the evidence gathered by the Special Grand Jury and its recommendations to decide whether to issue indictments.
If that process seems cumbersome, it exists to protect the innocent and ensure serious criminal charges are only made after careful deliberation by many fellow citizens who have reviewed all the evidence.
Under this process, nearly 60 Georgia citizens would have reviewed all of the evidence before a person can be convicted of crime. Through 3 separate stages of Special Grand Jury, Regular Grand Jury, and Trial Jury, each of those juries would have needed to believe the evidence indicated a crime was committed.