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Grand Jury

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Service on a grand jury will provide you with a unique opportunity to participate in the administration of justice. In order to better appreciate the functions of the grand jury today, it is necessary to understand a little about its history and evolution.

The Grand Jury Handbook summarizes the history, law and procedures governing the Grand Jury. This handbook provides you with an overview of the duties, functions and limitations of the Grand Jury.

Download PDF Grand Jury Handbook - 5th Edition (659Kb)

In the American common law legal system, a grand jury determines if there is enough evidence for a trial. Grand juries carry out this duty by examining evidence presented to them by a prosecutor and issuing indictments, or by investigating alleged crimes and issuing presentments. A grand jury is traditionally larger and distinguishable from a petit jury, which is used during a trial.

Since Colonial times, Georgia grand juries have also been authorized, and in some cases required, to perform duties unrelated to criminal law. These functions, traditionally referred to as civil functions or duties, fall into four categories: inspections or investigations, elections and voting, appointments and nominations, and miscellaneous duties.

The direct ancestor of the modern grand jury dates from the 1166 A.D. decree of King Henry II of England. This decree required 12 knights or other freemen of every 104 of every township to submit accusations of murder, robbery, larceny and harboring of criminals.

Because the majority of criminal cases were brought by private citizens, many cases were found to be completely baseless. The panel of knights and freemen called for in Henry II’s decree provided a ready screening device to weed out baseless cases before they went to trial. This panel became known as the great or, in Norman French, the “grand” jury (the trial jury, by contrast, is the small or ordinary, the “petit” jury).

When English colonists began settling in North America, they continued to follow the English legal system which included the grand jury.

While no mention was made of the grand jury in the Constitution of the United States when it was proposed for ratification in 1787, provisions for the grand jury were taken up by Congress when it met for the first time in 1789. In the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, it was provided that: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”

In Georgia, the grand jury is older than the superior courts, the first grand jury having been convened in 1735 in Savannah during the Trustee period. Prior to the American Revolution, grand juries in Georgia and the other colonies played a significant role in opposing British policies.

After the Revolutionary War, the grand jury continued to be a part of the judicial systems in the 13 original states.

In Georgia, grand juries played an important role in the development of the State. The routes for many of our early roads were suggested by grand juries in their general presentments.

The role of the grand jury continues to evolve to meet the demands of society. While duties such as inspecting and recommending roads have passed into history, new duties have taken their place.

While the grand jury remains a powerful institution through which ordinary citizens can participate directly in local government, its powers are not unlimited. Within the limits established by law, it is capable of providing a wealth of benefits to all of the residents of a community.

Qualifications

All residents of Georgia may serve on a grand jury if:

  • They are a citizen of the United States
  • They are 18 years of age or older
  • They are not incompetent because of mental illness or retardation
  • They are a current resident of the county and have resided in the county for six months prior to serving
  • They are the most experienced, intelligent and upright of persons

Any citizen who meets these basic requirements is eligible to be selected for grand jury duty unless he or she:

  • Has been convicted of a felony in a state or federal court and has not been pardoned or had his or her civil rights restored
  • Currently holds or has, within the previous two years, held an elected office in state or local government;
  • Has served as a grand juror in a state court at the preceding term of court.

Individuals who are 70 years old or older may request, in writing, to have their names removed from the jury lists. For further information on this, you should ask the district attorney.

Selection

All jurors are selected from a list of the qualified residents of the county. This list is developed by the Board of Jury Commissioners to reflect a fair cross-section of the residents of the county. The primary sources for this list are driver’s license records and voter registrations, but the commissioners may use any other source to ensure that the jury list fairly represents the population of the county.

The jury list is revised at least every two years. From this list the commissioners develop a second list containing names of the most intelligent and upright residents of the community from which the grand jurors will be selected.

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