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Criminal Justice System: How It Works

The criminal justice process is complex, and often can be confusing to persons not familiar with criminal law.  This arrest-to-sentence guide and legal glossary are designed to explain and clarify the criminal justice process in New York County.

The Grand Jury

What is a Grand Jury?

Under New York State law, unless the defendant consents, all felony cases must be presented to the Grand Jury.  Grand Juries are empowered to hear evidence presented by prosecutors, and to take various actions regarding the evidence and legal charges they are to consider.  The Grand Jury can also conduct independent investigations.  Grand Juries sit for a term of approximately one month.  Each Grand Jury is comprised of 23 citizens who hear and examine evidence concerning offenses and take action based on such evidence.

What Can a Grand Jury Do?

The Grand Jury can vote an indictment (a written statement charging an individual with the commission of a felony), direct the filing of a prosecutor's information (which contains non-felony charges), direct the removal of a case to Family Court, or issue a report.  For the first three actions, the Grand Jury must determine that the evidence is legally sufficient and that it provides reasonable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the crime.  Otherwise, the Grand Jury dismisses the matter.  If the Grand Jury votes an indictment, the case is adjourned to a Supreme Court Arraignment Part.

Are Grand Jury proceedings open to the public?

No. Grand Jury proceedings are secret and only specifically-authorized persons can be present.  In addition to the Assistant District Attorney and the Grand Jurors, there is a stenographer and a Grand Jury Warden, who oversees administrative aspects of the proceedings.  The ADA is the legal adviser of the Grand Jury and examines all witnesses who testify before it, including any defendant or defense witnesses.  At least 16 Grand Jurors must be present for any Grand Jury to hear evidence and take action.  Furthermore, at least 12 of the members who have heard the evidence must agree before any affirmative action can be taken.