The Grand Jury is made up of a number of jurors (community members), with the number varying according to locale. It is a secret proceeding, meaning it is not open to the public. The judge, defendant, and defense attorney are not present. When testifying before the Grand Jury, only the District Attorney
, jurors, and a court clerk are in the room. The District Attorney's Office presents witnesses to the Grand Jury, based on evidence that may indict the defendant, if a specified number of jurors agree. The purpose of the Grand Jury is to listen to information concerning felony crimes and to decide by a vote that:
- The evidence presented is sufficient, and the charges against the person arrested are correct and the case should be held for trial. The vote results in a "true bill" and an indictment is issued against the defendant.
- The evidence presented is not sufficient for felony charges, and the case will return to the City or Town court for prosecution as a misdemeanor.
- The evidence presented is not sufficient for any further court action, and the charges are dismissed. This vote is a "no bill."
It will be several days to several weeks before the victim may be informed of the decision of the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury is seated for a term of one month and reports out all the votes on all the cases heard. The District Attorney will inform the victim when to expect to hear the results.
After an indictment is filed against the defendant, he is arraigned again before a judge, this time in a Supreme or County Court.
If the defendant is in a jurisdiction without a Grand Jury, a Preliminary Hearing (also called Evidentiary Hearing) occurs after the prosecutor files criminal charges against the defendant. This hearing determines whether criminal charges will be heard by a court, what evidence will be admitted, and what else must be done before the case can proceed. The defendant is assisted by counsel at this hearing. If the defendant is indigent, legal counsel will be appointed by the court.