In November, a grand jury refused to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the controversial shooting of a young Ferguson man named Michael Brown. The case has caused many to ask, “What exactly is a main jury, anyway?” One thing’s for sure; main juries can indict you, so if you’re accused of a crime and a prosecutor takes your case to a grand judge in the New York City area, you’ll need the help of an experienced Long Island criminal defense lawyer. Grand juries are an interesting and somewhat mysterious part of the criminal justice system. Although grand juries and trial juries are both composed of average people called for jury duty, they serve distinctly different purposes.

Put simply, a grand judge helps a prosecutor decide whether or not to bring charges against a suspect in a criminal case. In New York, main juries typically consist of 23 members. While the duration of any particular grand jury may be months, jurors actually meet only a few days a month. Grand juries have the right to examine almost any kind of evidence and to interrogate virtually anyone they like. The procedure is somewhat more relaxed than a formal criminal trial. Typically, those who testify to a grand judge do not have attorneys accompany them, and the rules allow jurors to look at much more evidence than they would see in a criminal trial. Grand jury hearings are held in the strictest confidence to encourage witnesses to testify freely and to protect suspects if they are not indicted.

A grand jury greatly differs from a trial judge, which is a group of peers selected from the community. The state selects juries first by randomly choosing local citizens for the jury pool. Having a judge of your peers, then, does not mean that a white defendant is entitled to an exclusively white jury or that a female defendant is entitled to a jury of only females. Rather, the idea is to select a jury that reflects the entire population of the community. During jury selection before a trial, the judge, prosecution, and the defense examine each prospective juror to determine whether anything in that person’s beliefs or background may prejudice his or her judgment in the case. A good criminal defense lawyer will extensively examine prospective jurors to make sure a client isn’t pre-judged before a trial even begins.

A grand jury’s decision to indict or not to indict is not necessarily the end of a case. Prosecutors use main jury proceedings as test runs for trials, and they take a grand jury’s decision very seriously. Nevertheless, if a prosecutor strongly disagrees with a main jury’s decision, the prosecutor may file charges at his or her discretion. Whether your case goes to a grand judge or not, if you’re accused of any crime on Long Island or anywhere in New York City, protect yourself and put your case immediately in the hands of a trustworthy and experienced Long Island criminal defense lawyer.