The Job of The Grand Jury and Texas Felonies
This post is a follow up to my post on “My Son Was Arrested and Charged With a Felony. Is There a Way to Get the Charge Dismissed?” I think that a lot of people don’t understand a few things about our criminal Juries and our legal system. There are Grand Juries and Petit Juries in Texas criminal cases. The job of the Grand Jury and Texas felonies go together like peas and carrots. There are important differences between the two and the purposes they serve. Grand Juries specifically relate to felony charges.
I’ll get to Petit Juries in another blog post. A lot of clients are nerve wracked and anxious about felony charges against them. They are scared about the Grand Jury and the indictment process. This will explain the basics. If you want to talk about this more, give me a call or fill out the form to the right.
What is a Grand Jury in Texas?
A Grand Jury is a group of at least 9-12 people who are residents of the county where a felony occurred. Usually there are 2 alternates in a Grand Jury to bring the total to 14 people. A Grand Jury hears evidence that is present by a Prosecutor who represents the State of Texas. The Grand Jury determines whether there is enough evidence to find Probable Cause to believe that a person committed a felony. The Grand Jury process is held in secret. The Prosecutor is the only attorney that usually appears before the Grand Jury members. The Grand Jury members take an oath of secrecy. The Prosecutor can show the Grand Jury whatever evidence they want to. This allows the Prosecutor to show the worst evidence possible or the weakest evidence possible. They do not have to tell your side of the story at all. It is completely one sided, in favor of the State. A Prosecutor may present evidence that helps the person accused but they certainly don’t have to. The law doesn’t require that from them.
What does the Grand Jury Do?
The Grand Jury chooses whether or not to Indict a person accused of a felony. The Grand Jury will meet for a period of weeks or months. An Indictment means that the felony charge is publicly put against the person accused. If the Grand Jury chooses to indict someone, the Foreman or Foreperson signs what is called a “True Bill.” After the True Bill, the felony charge is then presented to a criminal Court and a felony case begins.
The Grand Jury decides whether or not to indict by deciding whether or not there is probable cause. Probable cause is the legal term for the amount of evidence needed to decide that a felony was committed – this is not to determine guilt or innocence of the person accused. This is only enough evidence as the Grand Jury needs to find that the person committed the crime. As far as types of evidence go, the Grand Jury can call witnesses, hear testimony, review pictures, videos, drawings etc… Deciding Guilt and innocence is not the role of the Grand Jury.
Although you may have been arrested and charged with a felony, the felony doesn’t really “begin” until you are indicted or a True Bill is returned. If you are held in jail, the State has 90 days to indict you or they must release you on bond. If the Grand Jury chooses not to indict you, congratulations! That’s great news.
What if the Grand Jury doesn’t indict me? What is a No Bill?
If the Grand Jury chooses not to indict you, then the Foreman or Foreperson of the Grand Jury will not sign the indictment. If the indictment is not signed, that means that the Grand Jury has returned a No Bill. A No Bill means that the felony charge is not forwarded to a criminal Court for a trial at a later date. This can be good news or it may mean more anxiety.
My felony charge was No Billed. What’s next with my case?
If a felony charge is No Billed that can be very good news. That means that there was not enough evidence to convince the Grand Jury that you committed a felony. Very often, once a No Bill is returned from the Grand Jury, the Prosecutor will sign a dismissal order. A Dismissal Order, once signed by the Judge, dismisses the case against you. However, once the criminal charge is filed against you, depending on the charge, the Statute of Limitations begins to run for you and the State.
What do I do for you on your felony case?
One thing I like to do is speak to the prosecutors as soon as possible before indictment and before they present your case to the Grand Jury. Sometimes, I can give them favorable evidence to your side of the story for them to considering showing the Grand Jury. This may be the deciding factor as to whether or not you get indicted.
The important note here is that once you are arrested for a felony, even if one Grand Jury decides to not to indict you and No Bills the charge, that does not prevent the prosecutor from trying to indict you again, at a later time, with a different Grand Jury! For example, once the members of one Grand Jury decide to No Bill your case, the prosecutor may have a number of years before the Statute of Limitations has expired. The prosecutor can keep trying to indict you until the Statute of Limitations expires.
Why can they keep trying to indict me?
The State can keep trying to indict you because the Statute of Limitations has not run out for your criminal charge. This is the way that the law is set up. This is because during that time (the Statute of Limitations) new evidence may become available, witnesses may disappear and then come back, new testing may become available (DNA for example), and overall the State has the right to present their case.
Grand Juries in Texas serve as gatekeepers to the criminal Courts for felony charges. If a Grand Jury, after reviewing the evidence presented, does not find probable cause that you committed a felony, then your charge is No Billed. If they do find probable cause, they you will be indicted and a True Bill will be sent to the criminal Court to request a Trial. At that point, the normal sequence of a criminal case begins. Get ready to request your criminal discovery as soon as possible.