The Grand Jury in Missouri and How it Works
Missouri is one of the several states in the U.S. that use a grand jury system to determine criminal indictments. Basically, a grand jury is a group of citizens selected to sit on a jury to investigate possible criminal conduct and determine whether charges should be brought against a potential defendant. Missouri laws empower the grand jury to conduct legal proceedings and decide if there is probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime and should be indicted. However, it should be noted that it’s not the responsibility of the grand jury to find guilt or propose penalties to a party. The grand jury in Missouri plays a key role in running a valuable test for prosecutors in making a decision whether to press charges or not.
Typically, the grand jury in Missouri consists of 12 people who are randomly selected from a cross-section of citizens. Grand jury members convene on order of a circuit judge and may appear in court a couple of times every month.
It’s easy to confuse the grand jury with a preliminary hearing, but the two are very different. The grand jury‘s primary role is to determine whether there is enough probable cause to indict a criminal suspect. Grand jury proceedings do not involve lawyers, the press, the public and a presiding judge as it is the case in preliminary hearings. Besides, grand jury proceedings are much more relaxed than normal court room proceedings. The prosecutor explains the law to the jurors and works with them to gather evidence and testimonies. Unlike in normal courtroom proceedings where parties must submit admissible evidence that meets strict rules, the grand jury is more flexible and can listen to everything all parties have to say.
Grand jury procedures in Missouri
(i) Grand jury legal proceedings are conducted in confidence so as to encourage witnesses to present their evidence without coercion from the potential defendant. Another reason the proceedings are not open to the public is to protect the potential suspect’s reputation should the jury decide not to press criminal charges. The members of the grand jury are sworn to secrecy hence they are not allowed to reveal any information pertaining to the events taking place during proceedings.
(ii) It’s only grand jurors, a prosecutor, and a witness who are allowed to be present in grand jury proceedings. Potential suspects or their attorneys do not have the right to be present when witnesses are giving their testimonies concerning the possible suspect. However, with the permission of the circuit attorney, defendants can present their defense to the grand jury.
(iii) Witnesses take an oath requiring them not to disclose any information after testifying or anything to do with events taking place in grand jury proceedings.
(iv) Only members of the grand jury are allowed to be present during deliberations or voting.
(v) The grand jury in Missouri does not need an entirely unanimous decision to press charges against a potential defendant, but it does need a supermajority of three-quarters agreement for an indictment.
After gathering evidence and listening to witness testimonies, the grand jury in Missouri either votes a “true bill” if there is probable cause to indict a criminal suspect or a “no true bill” if the grand jurors don’t find probable cause to open charges. However, in his or her discretion, a prosecutor can decide to open charges against a criminal suspect even when the grand jury votes a “no true bill”. In circumstances where a prosecutor decides to open charges without a grand jury indictment, he or she must prove to the trial judge that there is sufficient evidence to charge the suspect. But with a “true bill”, the prosecutor can proceed directly to trial.
If the grand jury finds a probable cause to indict a potential suspect, then the presiding judge will issue an arrest warrant against the defendant, if he or she is not already in custody.