The Limelight on the Grand Jury System in Florida
Recently in the news, there has been constant discussion about grand juries and their ability to indict. Grand juries serve an extremely important role in our justice system, as we have witnessed in the last month, but how they work still remains a mystery to the general public. The grand jury system in Florida, how it works, and its significance to defendants will be discussed below.
What are Grand Juries?
Grand juries serve as an agency of the circuit court and Florida Supreme Court and functions as the investigating, reporting, and accusing division of the Court system. They are invoked when prosecutors under state law are trying to obtain an indictment against someone for a capital offense, a type of offense for which the death penalty may be ordered. The purpose of the grand jury is to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to justify indicting the defendant for the capital crime, and this serves as a form of protection to ensure that the state cannot indict a defendant without proper cause and evidence.
What’s the Difference Between Grand Juries and Petit (Trial) Juries
In Florida, grand juries may be either grand juries or petit juries. Grand juries consist of 15 to 21 people (as determined by Florida law), and are appointed for about five to six months, usually one term of court. Grand jurors must be citizens of the United States, must be at least 18 years old, and must live in the county where the case is being presented. To be selected, the county commissioners must believe that the citizens are law-abiding, have strong moral character and integrity, and are of sound judgment and intelligence. Grand juries are only able to indict if they have a concurrence of 12 grand jurors. In Florida, not only do grand juries review whether or not there is sufficient evidence to indict a defendant, but they also review official misconduct and issues surrounding public welfare, even if criminal activity is not present.
Petit juries have a different composition and serve a different function than grand juries. Petit Juries consist of 6 members (but still require 12 jurors in capital cases). Petit juries, also known as trial juries, hear both sides of the argument, review the evidence and the arguments, and determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. The major difference between grand juries and petit juries is that grand juries commence criminal prosecution while petit juries determine based on the evidence presented before them the ultimate issue in question.
Grand Jury Deliberations: Public or Private?
Grand juries in Florida are also done in secret. All arguments, evidence, testimony, and deliberation occurs within the walls of a grand jury. The only part of the grand jury procedure that is not secret is the announcement of the defendant’s indictment after deliberations and voting have ended. In addition, Florida state statutes bar grand jurors and other court personnel (including the state attorneys) from discussing the testimony given to the grand jury by a witness, except under limited and narrow circumstances.
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale
Grand juries determine whether to indict a defendant based on a lower standard than in regular trials. Though grand juries were created to serve as a check on the prosecution, many times it serves to make defense even more difficult. It is crucial that a defendant have an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik to advocate on his behalf and protect justice. Contact the Law Offices of Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation.