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Trials are heard by a "Petit Jury", which is a Body that decides guilt or innocence, or its members are brought together upon the recommendation of a Grand Jury's findings.

On a separate page I explained the right to trials by jury including the decision by a defendant with the advice of counsel to go that route, or depending on the facts and evidence of a case, as an alternative to try negotiating a plea agreement with the prosecution.

Click this link to read that content.

In Florida, a Grand Jury comprises no less than fifteen members and no more than twenty one participants. They are brought to weigh evidence of crimes alleged by the prosecution. They scrutinize this evidence offered "only" by the prosecution or the government by way of documents and witness testimony. The defense counsel plays no part in the proceedings. A majority decides if there's cause to issue an indictment against the defendant in question. This is known as a true bill. A petit jury, depending upon the type of trial, consists of either six or twelve jurors.

The Grand Jury and Petit Jury have completely diverse functions and purposes. The petit jury essentially tries the case and decides the final verdict after hearing all arguments and evidence presented by both sides. The Grand Jury does not try a case at all and doesn't render a decision on the concern of guilt or innocence. Its purpose is merely to hear witness statements relating to a charge of a crime and conclude whether the person, or groups charged with the crime should face trial.

You may have heard the term that "a Grand Jury could indict a ham sandwich", but the Body actually works as both a sword and safeguard of justice for the accused. It is a terror to the knowingly guilty, yet a safeguard because it is protection for innocent persons against unjust prosecution.

In federal cases, a Grand Jury is made up of twelve to twenty-three people and must be assembled in cases that are considered "infamous crimes" Felonies as well as acts of treason are considered to be infamous crimes. The members must also be assembled in the case of a capital offense which is a crime of murder, treason and crimes against humanity when a sentence of death may be considered an appropriate punishment.

This specification is found under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It doesn't relate to the states established by a Supreme Court decision which gave states leeway to not use Grand Juries if they select not to. Nonetheless, in states that do choose to utilize the practice, it can act as a check on the prevailing authority of the prosecution.

State Grand Jury vs. Federal Grand Jury
In the late nineteenth century case of Hurtado v, California, a Supreme Court decision ruled that the passage which requires Grand Jury procedure to indict for serious crimes laid out in the Fifth Amendment does not apply to the individual states. This decision basically gave the states the option to utilize a Grand Juries system or not at their discretion. All fifty states have provisions for a grand jury presently, but only approximately half of them use them for criminal cases.

To read more about Grand Juries in further detail, follow this link to a page dedicated to a complete depiction.

Absolute Immunity/ Common Law
There was a case recently decided by the Supreme Court of the United States which held that grand jury witnesses, just like trial witnesses, were entitled to absolute immunity from any legal liability stemming from their testimony under Section 1983.

Although the Supreme Court held that it is forbidden to merely generate an immunity for reasons of policy, and it is only allowed to identify the immunities which previously existed in the common law when Section 1983 was first enacted (in 1871!), the Court admitted that it had occasionally recognized absolute immunity in past cases where there may have not been immunity dealing with common law and, had at times, taken a rather inconsistent approach to ruling on absolute immunity.

The Supreme Court now ruled that since the certainty is that contemporary criminal actions are considerably unlike its common law equivalents were, the Court needs to look at the nature of the function that was protected by the common law, not the identity of the witness who may have performed that function.

During common law times, while a witness that will object was still not immunized from civil liabilities stemming from his or her testimony, these witnesses used to be the main complaining parties of the case. They would initiate the prosecution and would not necessarily even testify at trial. During modern times, however, cases are usually brought by a prosecutor and therefore, witnesses that testify in front of a grand jury are not really the complaining witnesses the way they were in the past.

The Supreme Court held that absolute immunity for grand jury testimony is needed in order to protect the essential part that grand juries took part in up-to-date criminal process. Witnesses testifying before a grand jury need to be assured that they can be honest on the stand without some anxiety of any reciprocal law suit. The Court felt that the fact that they can be charged with the crime of perjury, for lying on the stand should be enough of a deterrent against providing false testimony.

If you have been notified that you or someone you care about is under any type of federal or state investigation or if an arrest has already taken place in Fort Lauderdale, Miami-Dade County, the Palm Beaches or any other jurisdiction in South Florida call Michael B. Cohen, Esq, Trial Attorney at the earliest possible time at: 954.928.0059.

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