The institution of the grand jury has a significant place in the criminal justice system. Sometimes known as the “people’s panel,” the grand jury is empowered to determine whether there is probable cause to indict individuals on serious criminal charges.
Both the constitution of the United States (as part of the 5th Amendment) and by the New York State constitution (in Article 1, Section 6) recognize this fundamental role of a grand jury in deciding whether there is enough evidence to justify the filing of criminal charges.
Like individuals summoned to serve on a jury during a criminal trial (a petit jury), the grand jurors serve to bring the perspective of ordinary citizens into the criminal justice system. But a grand jury plays a substantially different role, and under different procedure and conditions, than does a trial jury.
In New York, unless a defendant decides not to insist on the requirement, he or she cannot be charged with a felony (a criminal offense that can bring more than a year in prison) unless a grand jury has produced an indictment.