There’s a great deal of confusion between the ideas of grand jury vs criminal trials that can cause a lot of stress for someone who doesn’t understand the two independently. When looking at the two kinds of cases it’s important to understand they’re two completely different things and to help illustrate this we’ll break them down individually for you.
A grand jury does not do trials. In the federal system and is some states (not Wisconsin) a grand jury makes the initial determination of whether to charge a person with a crime and what the charges will be. A grand jury begins with a selection of a much larger jury, typically 23 people, who are assembled together to watch over the case. Once put together, the jurors only work for a few days a week over a longer period of time than a typical jury in a criminal trial.
During the time the grand jury is together they work very closely with the prosecutor to conduct a review of the evidence. In this situation, in theory, the grand jury has nearly complete control to view a wider variety of evidence, interview witnesses, or investigate the case in any necessary ways. However, in practice, the prosecutor usually controls what evidence the grand jury sees and hears before the jury votes to issue criminal charges or not.
In Wisconsin, the charging decision lies with the District Attorney. Once a person is charged, in a felony case, the court will hold a probable cause hearing to determine if the prosecutor has some basis to issue the charges. If the court determines that there was probable cause to issue charges, the case proceeds to trial.
Normal criminal cases take the form of a formal trial with 6 jurors in a misdemeanor case and 12 jurors in a felony case. The Jurors will sit in on the trial for the entire duration of it. Formal trials last a much shorter time, usually a few days to a week and in some rare instances longer. During this process a judge controls all of the court process rather than the jurors themselves.
Throughout the entire trial the jurors will have no say in what evidence is shown and it’s instead chosen completely by the attorneys and are within strict guidelines. Over the course of the trial the jury will sit and listen and ultimately make a decision (verdict) which is then presented to the court.
Regardless of the trial you’re entering it’s always advisable to seek legal counsel, especially if you are unsure of the processes. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us for a free consultation today!
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