Federal criminal trials differ from state trials in a number of ways, including how federal and state governments bring criminal charges. If the police arrested you for crimes under Arkansas law, a state prosecutor will generally be the one to file charges against you. However, if the federal government wants to prosecute you, it will likely turn to a grand jury to make an indictment.
The U.S. Constitution requires that the federal government use a grand jury to indict someone for a felony, though such indictments are also options for federal misdemeanor crimes. Here is a look at what might happen if federal authorities seek to prosecute you for a federal crime.
How a grand jury works
A grand jury is not like a jury that determines whether someone is guilty of a crime. FindLaw explains that in the context of a federal crime, the federal government will call a group of citizens to make up a grand jury to determine whether or not there is sufficient cause to prosecute you.
During the proceedings, the prosecutor will present evidence and witness testimony to the grand jury to support the government’s case against you. These proceedings are not open to the public. This allows witnesses to speak without fear of retaliation and to ensure that no embarrassing or harmful information about you becomes public if the jury does not indict you.
How a grand jury may prevent a trial
A grand jury may vote down an indictment if it decides there is insufficient evidence against you. This does not require a unanimous decision. Depending on the jurisdiction, two-thirds or three-quarters of a grand jury must vote for an indictment for one to proceed. However, a prosecutor may try to convince a trial judge that there is a strong enough case against you even if the grand jury votes against an indictment.
Options after an indictment
While a grand jury indictment makes it likely that a federal judge will convene a trial, there are still ways to convince a judge to dismiss the indictment before the trial begins. The government may have engaged in double jeopardy or violated your right to a speedy trial. Additionally, your legal defense might seek a pretrial motion to suppress evidence that authorities had illegally acquired.
Federal crimes are serious matters, so it can be a major relief if a grand jury decides the evidence does not warrant prosecution against you. Still, there may be options to contest a grand jury indictment depending on the circumstances of your case.