How is it that people are indicted by a grand jury?
1 attorney answer
Grand juries are impaneled to issue indictments. The District Attorney presents evidence of crimes and, if the grand jury believes that they have presented enough evidence that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed by the accused, they issue the indictment.
Because the grand jury proceedings are generally secret, the accused has no right to counsel in the proceeding or even to be made aware that it's occurring, and the prosecutor controls all the evidence that is presented, it shouldn't be surprising that grand juries issue indictments just about whenever the DA asks them to. A famous judge once quipped that a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if requested. (It bears some mention that this judge, the Hon. Sol Wachtler, was eventually himself indicted, and subsequently arrested, tried and convicted of serious crimes including extortion, stripped of his judicial rank, and sent to prison.)
However, because the proceeding is so lacking in due process, the fact that a defendant is indicted is not, by itself, any evidence or indication of guilt. To actually convict a defendant of a crime, the state must prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defendant is entitled to counsel, even at state expense if necessary, to numerous procedural rights, and to a trial before a jury of their peers (a so-called petit jury, in contrast to the grand jury).
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