How does a grand jury work?

By Aaron Barker - Senior Web Editor

HOUSTON - When most hear the word "jury," they immediately think of a group of people determining the innocence or guilt of a defendant. However, that is not the role of a grand jury.

The primary role of a grand jury is to determine whether there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges, called an indictment, against someone accused of a serious crime.

This is usually the first step used by the prosecution in criminal proceedings.

In Texas, grand juries are made up of about 12 people who meet the qualifications laid out in law, including being citizens of the country, able to read and write and not under indictment, according to the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

Members can either be recruited by a commission or be selected by the court from an array of people, according to the association.

The grand jury meets in secret, meaning neither the media nor the public can view the proceedings. The people who are allowed in the room are also limited. Evidence about the case is presented and witnesses are questioned, then everyone but jury members exit and deliberations begin.

In Harris County, the grand jury meets twice a week.

If the grand jury returns a true bill, it means they believe there is enough evidence to proceed with charges against the accused. If the grand jury declines to indict, the prosecutorial process against the accused ends.

Once an indictment is handed down, authorities usually issue a warrant for the arrest of the accused.

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