Q: What is a grand jury?
A: The grand jury is a part of the common pleas court system in Ohio. One or more grand juries sit in each Ohio county for a period of four or more months at a time all year round; grand juries meet every day in some counties, once a month in others. The grand jury is composed of nine persons and not more than five alternates. All are residents of the county and were randomly selected to serve, just as trial (or petit) jurors are selected.
Q: What is the purpose of the grand jury?
A: The grand jury actually has two purposes. First, it reviews criminal charges which have already been brought by the police and prosecutors to determine whether or not these charges are supported by probable cause (substantial probability that a crime was committed and that the individual charged committed it). By this so-called indicting function, the grand jury serves as a shield between an innocent accused person and an over-zealous prosecutor. It protects the accused person's right to be free from unreasonable charges which can take away his liberty, harm his reputation, and cause him expense.
Second, the grand jury can initiate criminal charges after conducting investigations of possible criminal behavior within the county. To carry out this investigative function, the grand jury is given several powers: 1) its proceedings are secret (open only to a prosecutor, a recorder, and the grand jurors); 2) it can summon (subpoena) persons to appear and testify or to bring needed documents for the grand jury to review; and 3) it can punish those who fail to cooperate with the investigation by holding them in contempt and placing them in jail (unless the person has a valid claim that he is not required to submit to the grand jury's inquiry). If the investigating grand jury finds probable cause to believe crimes were committed, it may issue indictments.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by Professor Margery B. Koosed of the University of Akron School of Law.