Step 2: Charging
After the prosecutor studies the information from investigators and the information he gathers from talking with the individuals involved, he decides whether to present the case to the grand jury. When a person is indicted, he is given formal notice that it is believed that he committed a crime. The indictment contains the basic information that informs the person of the charges against him.
For potential felony charges, a prosecutor will present the evidence to an impartial group of citizens called a grand jury. Witnesses may be called to testify, evidence is shown to the grand jury, and an outline of the case is presented to the grand jury members. The grand jury listens to the prosecutor and witnesses, and then votes in secret on whether they believe that enough evidence exists to charge the person with a crime. A grand jury may decide not to charge an individual based upon the evidence, no indictment would come from the grand jury. All proceedings and statements made before a grand jury are sealed, meaning that only the people in the room have knowledge about who said what about whom. The grand jury is a constitutional requirement for certain types of crimes (meaning it is written in the United States Constitution) so that a group of citizens who do not know the defendant can make an unbiased decision about the evidence before voting to charge an individual with a crime.
Grand juries are made up of approximately 16-23 members. Their proceedings can only be attended by specific persons. For example, witnesses who are compelled to testify before the grand jury are not allowed to have an attorney present. At least twelve jurors must concur in order to issue an indictment.
|The federal courthouse in Minneapolis is one of the venues for the District of Minnesota.|
States are not required to charge by use of a grand jury. Many do, but the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to only require the federal government to use grand juries for all felony crimes (federal misdemeanor charges do not have to come from the federal grand jury).
After the defendant is charged, he can either hire an attorney or if he is indigent he may choose to be represented by an attorney provided by the Government — a public defender — at no or minimal charge. The defendant’s attorney is referred to as the defense attorney. He assists the defendant in understanding the law and the facts of the case, and represents the defendant just as the prosecutor will represent the Government.
The location where the trial is held is called the venue, and federal cases are tried in a United States District Court. There are 94 district courts in the United States including the District of Columbia and territories. Many states have more than one district court so the venue will depend on where you live in the state. Within each district, there may be several courthouse locations. Click here to see if you can find the one closest to your neighborhood.
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