Part 4 of my series on Grand Juries: What else can a Grand Jury do?
Where I last left off, I talked about the process by which a Grand Jury reviews a case briefly with a prosecutor then votes whether to indict. That is the vast majority of Grand Jury cases. But Grand Juries also have investigative powers. A Grand Jury can summon witnesses to testify under oath, produce records and other items, and they really get to run the show if they choose to.
A prosecutor will often use these powers to his benefit to build a case on someone. Witness testimony can be preserved for later trial and certain evidence can be forcibly obtained without search warrants by use of a Grand Jury subpoena.
Grand Juries don't always know this, but they also have the power to set their own agenda and investigate whatever they want, whether the prosecutor wants to or not. When this happens, they are called a "runaway Grand Jury." That doesn't happen that often but I can recall several cases of it in Harris County over the last decade.
Sometimes a prosecutor will use a Grand Jury to investigate a particularly complex or high profile case to figure out what evidence is out there and whether there is a case worth pursuing. A Grand Jury is 12 citizens out of the same pool as the trial jury, so a prosecutor might use them as a practice jury to see what a jury might think about the case.
Grand Juries also review police shootings. This has been met with great controversy over the last few years over some of the no bills that have resulted in high profile civil unrest.
Finally, Grand Juries in Harris County review homicide cases, even when there is an obvious justification such as self-defense. They all go through a Grand Jury in Harris County as a matter of policy.
If you ever find yourself with a Grand Jury subpoena in your hand, it is a good idea to seek legal representation. Even if you haven't been charged yet, bad decisions at the Grand Jury stage can greatly increase the chance of adverse consequences later.
Next time I will get to the important stuff...what can a skilled defense attorney do to help a client at the Grand Jury?