While a grand jury is similar to a trial jury in that it is comprised of a random selection of individuals who hear evidence, one key difference is that a grand jury is not responsible for deciding guilt. Instead, a grand jury is responsible for deciding if an individual or individuals face felony charges by way of indictment.
By New Mexico law, a grand jury is comprised of twelve regular jurors, as well as a sufficient number of alternates. Grand jury hearings are conducted within normal business hours, at a location provided by the court and ordered by the judge. If the jurors would like to inspect an outside location involved as evidence, the grand jury can be reconvened to that location. However, any oral testimony or other evidence can only be considered during formal private grand jury hearing sessions.
As part of the grand jury process, a prosecutor will submit the charges to the grand jury in a document called a “bill”. The prosecutor then produces evidence and calls individuals to testify. The target may testify though they generally do not. The target‘s attorney is not allowed to participate in the proceeding which makes the target‘s testimony somewhat risky.
The target has few rights beyond testimony. His or her attorney may submit proposed exhibits and questions to the district attorney. In addition, your attorney can alert the grand jury of the existence of “exculpatory evidence” which tends to negate the charges. However, it is up to prosecutor to present the evidence. They often refuse and then the target must then seek the assistance of the presiding judge who will make the final decision on admission of the target‘s evidence.
Once the prosecutor has presented the evidence, the grand jurors must be satisfied that the crime charged was committed establishing probable cause to bring a criminal complaint against the the target. Probable cause does not mean proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it just means that a reasonable person would conclude that a crime had been committed and the target probably committed it.
Unfortunately for targets, this burden is very low which had led to many to argue that the grand jury would indict a ham sandwich. Fortunately, once an indictment is issued, the defendant‘s full spectrum of constitutional rights kick in. An indictment is very serious because it leads to felony charges. However, an indictment is not a conviction, it is just the beginning of the felony criminal process.