A Grand Jury packet is information a criminal defense attorney provides to the Grand Jury in a felony case to persuade the Grand Jury to “no bill” a case (which leads to a dismissal), or sometimes to indict a case filed as a felony as a misdemeanor. For strategic reasons, Grand Jury packets are not used in every case, though they can be a useful tool to get an excellent result. This article gives an overview of the Grand Jury Process, what a Grand Jury Packet is, and when this tool should be used by a criminal defense attorney.
What is a Grand Jury?
A Grand Jury is a group of twelve jurors who meet to listen to evidence with the assistance of a prosecutor at the beginning of a felony case. Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the job of the Grand Jury is to “inquire into all offenses liable to indictment” in a particular case. An indictment can be thought of as a formal charge. The right to have a case presented to a Grand Jury is Constitutionally protected under both the Texas and Federal Constitution.
Although a prosecutor will often help question witnesses, the members of the Grand Jury, who are selected from the community, are in charge of the proceedings. The Grand Jury has the power to call witnesses and even direct certain aspects of the investigation. A criminal defense attorney is typically not present at the Grand Jury.
After the Grand Jury listens to the evidence, the members will vote as to whether “probable cause” exists for an indictment to issue. At least 9 members need to find probable cause for an indictment, which is also knows as a “true bill.” If a Grand Jury fails to find probable cause, that is known as a “no bill,” which typically leads to a dismissal. Even though a case may be filed as a felony, it is also possible that it can be indicted a misdemeanor. For example, if a person is arrested and charged with felony Intoxication Assault (which is a DWI involving serious bodily injury) but the Grand Jury does not believe there is evidence of “serious bodily injury,” it could choose to indict the defendant for misdemeanor DWI, even though misdemeanors are typically not presented to the Grand Jury.
How can a defense attorney use a Grand Jury Packet?
Although a defense attorney is typically not permitted to be in the Grand Jury room, the defense attorney can submit a “Grand Jury packet” to the Grand Jury. This packet is usually a set of documents, evidence and letters addressed to the Grand Jury, which a defense attorney provides in the hopes of convincing the Grand Jury to decline to find probable cause (which as stated above, is known as a “no bill”). A Grand Jury packet should explicitly ask the Grand Jury to not find probable cause or to indict the defendant for a misdemeanor.
A typical Grand Jury packet submitted by an experienced attorney will contain a letter from the attorney laying out facts helpful to the defendant, as well as any supporting documentation, like witness statements, letters of recommendation, photographs, videos or anything else that is helpful. Unlike a trial in a criminal case, where evidence is strictly controlled by the rules of evidence, Grand Jury packets can contain virtually anything. For example, it is common for Grand Jury packets to contain reports from polygraph examiners (so called “lie detector” tests), even though evidence of a lie detector test is almost never admissible in a criminal trial.
When should a defense attorney use a Grand Jury packet?
A Grand Jury packet should not be used in every case. A Grand Jury packet will typically contain a defense attorney’s strategy, and should therefore only be provided to the Grand Jury (and the prosecutor) if there is a high likelihood it will succeed. Additionally, even though a defense presented in a Grand Jury packet might be strong, it is also important that a prosecutor be receptive to the idea of a Grand Jury packet. If a prosecutor wants to see a case indicted, he can typically influence the Grand Jury to do so.
Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who has presented hundreds of cases to the Grand Jury. As a defense attorney, he has had countless “no bills” in cases ranging from aggravated assault, to sexual assault, to theft. He has the experience to know when a Grand Jury Packet in appropriate and how to maximize the chances of its success. If you are charged with any criminal offense in the Greater Houston area, Jose Ceja is an excellent choice. Call today for a free consultation.