Part 3 of my series on Grand Juries: What goes on in that Grand Jury room?
This is the door to the Grand Jury area at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center. Through this door is a pair of waiting rooms, a reception area where the Bailiffs are, and behind that are the Grand Jury rooms.
The proceedings of a Grand Jury behind closed doors are secret by law. It is actually a crime for a Grand Juror, prosecutor, court reporter, interpreter, bailiff, or anyone else privy to the proceedings to disclose information without authorization from a Judge. So what is this super secret process?
When you enter a Harris County Grand Jury room, there is a semicircle desk with chairs for the twelve Grand Jurors to face towards the door you walked through. In the front of the room is another desk where the prosecutor, a witness, or the court reporter sits, whatever the case may be.
Usually, the presentation of a case to a Grand Jury takes a minute or too. This presentation consists of the prosecutor giving a brief summary of the facts (or what he considers the facts to be) to the Grand Jury. After this, the prosecutor will ask if there are any questions, and then move on to the next case. It is not uncommon for a prosecutor assigned to Grand Jury to present 30 or 40 cases in a row like this! That is how little information these people hear before making such an important decision. After he is done, he leaves the room, the Grand Jurors vote, and then they stamp the indictments of the ones they indict (usually the vast majority). They also have a "No Bill" stamp that they stamp the ones they did not indict.
This secretive process is that simple for the vast majority of cases. Within one minute of the prosecutor telling his side of the case, the decision is made. After learning this, you probably understand where the saying "a Texas Grand Jury would indict a Ham Sandwich" comes from.
Next time, I'll talk about some of the other things a Grand Jury can do, and I promise, eventually, I will get to how a skilled defense attorney can use the process to his client's benefit.