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  • Writer's pictureBrad Thornton

San Antonio Criminal Defense Lawyer: What is a Grand Jury in Texas?

If you have been charged with a crime in Texas, you may have heard the term "grand jury" thrown around. But what exactly is a grand jury, and how does it work? As a criminal defense attorney in Bexar County, I have represented countless clients who have had to face the grand jury process. In this blog post, I will explain what a grand jury is, how it works, and what you need to know if you are facing this legal process.

What is a Grand Jury?

A grand jury is a group of citizens who are selected to determine whether there is enough evidence to indict a person for a felony. If the person is charged with a misdemeanor, their case does not have to be presented to a grand jury, and can be filed by the signature of the prosecutor alone. In Texas, grand juries are composed of 12 people who are chosen from a pool of potential jurors by a judge. Grand juries serve different terms, usually from 3 to 6 months, but this can vary by the needs of the particular county that convened the grand jury.

How Does a Grand Jury Work?

The grand jury process begins with a prosecutor presenting evidence to the grand jury, which may include witness testimony, physical evidence, and other relevant information. The grand jurors listen to the evidence and decide whether there is probable cause to believe that the person accused of the crime committed the offense. Probable cause means that the evidence is sufficient to justify a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed and that the accused person committed it.

What is an Indictment?

If the grand jury determines that there is enough evidence, it will issue an indictment. An indictment is a formal charge that accuses a person of committing a crime. It is important to note that an indictment does not mean that a person is guilty of a crime. It simply means that there is enough evidence to move forward with a trial. On the other hand, if the grand jury decides that there is not enough evidence to indict the person, it will issue a no-bill. This means that the person will not be charged with the crime.

In order for the grand jury to issue an indictment, there must be a quorum of grand jurors present. A quorum is the minimum number of jurors required to conduct business, which is 9 members under Texas law. Once a quorum is established, the grand jury can proceed with its deliberations and make its decision.

Who Sits on a Grand Jury and How are They Selected?

In Texas, grand jurors are selected through a process known as venire. The venire is a pool of potential jurors who are summoned to appear in court for jury duty. Article 19.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure outlines the process for selecting grand jurors.

The names of potential grand jurors are selected at random from a list of registered voters or from the list of people who hold a driver's license or identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety. The court may also use other sources of names to supplement the venire, such as property tax records or utility records.

Once the venire is assembled, the court will conduct a process known as voir dire, in which the court will ask potential jurors questions to determine whether they are qualified to serve as grand jurors. The attorney or any other person may challenge potential jurors for cause, meaning they believe the juror cannot be impartial or unbiased. After the voir dire process is complete, the court will select the grand jurors from the venire. The grand jurors are then sworn in and begin their term of service.

It is important to note that grand jurors are required to meet certain qualifications, such as being a citizen of the United States, a resident of the county in which they are serving, and at least 18 years of age. Additionally, grand jurors cannot have been convicted of a felony or be under indictment for a felony offense.

How Secret are the Proceedings and What are the Consequences?

The grand jury proceedings are secret in Texas, meaning that the jurors, the prosecutor, and the court personnel are prohibited from disclosing information about the proceedings to anyone who is not involved in the case. This secrecy serves to protect the integrity of the proceedings and prevent interference with the investigation.

Article 19A.202 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states that grand jurors are sworn to secrecy and must not disclose any matter occurring before the grand jury. The prosecutor and the court personnel are also required to maintain the secrecy of the proceedings.

If anyone violates the secrecy requirement, they may be subject to penalties under Article 20.16 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. The penalties for disclosure include fines of up to $500 and imprisonment for up to six months. Additionally, a person who discloses grand jury information may be held in contempt of court and face further penalties.

The secrecy requirement applies not only to the jurors and court personnel, but also to witnesses who testify before the grand jury. Witnesses are also prohibited from disclosing information about the proceedings, and if they violate this requirement, they may be subject to penalties such as fines and imprisonment.

It is important to note that while the grand jury proceedings are secret, the accused person has the right to be informed of the charges against them and to have access to the evidence presented to the grand jury. However, this information may only be obtained through legal means, such as a discovery request or a motion for disclosure.

How are the Proceedings Conducted and do the Rules of Evidence Apply?

Grand jury proceedings in Texas are conducted in private, with only the grand jurors, the prosecutor, court personnel, and witnesses present in the room. The accused person and their attorney are not present during the grand jury proceedings, and they do not have the right to present evidence or cross-examine witnesses.

The prosecutor presents evidence to the grand jury, including witness testimony, physical evidence, and other relevant information. The grand jurors may ask questions of the witnesses or request additional evidence if they feel it is necessary to make a decision. In most cases, it is only the prosecutor presenting evidence to the grand jury through a summary of the offense report

The proceedings are conducted in a similar manner to a trial, but with some important differences. For example, the rules of evidence do not apply, and hearsay evidence is admissible. Additionally, the grand jurors may consider other evidence that would not be admissible at trial, such as evidence obtained through an illegal search or seizure. There is no judge presiding over the grand jury.

Overall, grand jury proceedings are conducted in private to protect the integrity of the investigation and to prevent interference with the decision-making process. The secrecy of the proceedings ensures that witnesses are not influenced by outside sources and that the grand jurors are able to make an unbiased decision based on the evidence presented to them.

Can You Fight a Probable Cause Finding by the Grand Jury?

If the grand jury issues an indictment, the defendant can still challenge the probable cause finding at a later stage in the legal process. This challenge can take the form of a motion to quash the indictment, which asserts that there was a defect in the grand jury proceedings that renders the indictment invalid.

What is a Grand Jury Target letter?

A grand jury target letter is a letter sent by a prosecutor to an individual who is a target of a grand jury investigation. The letter informs the recipient that they are the subject of a grand jury investigation and that they may be called to testify before the grand jury.

The letter typically provides the recipient with information about the nature of the investigation and the specific criminal charges that are being investigated. The letter may also request that the recipient provide documents or other evidence related to the investigation.

It is important to note that receiving a grand jury target letter does not necessarily mean that the recipient will be indicted or charged with a crime. However, it does indicate that the prosecutor believes that there is enough evidence to warrant further investigation.

If you receive a grand jury target letter, it is important to seek legal representation immediately. An experienced criminal defense attorney can review the letter and help you understand the nature of the investigation, as well as advise you on how to respond to the letter.

San Antonio Criminal Lawyer Brad Thornton

San Antonio Criminal Lawyer Brad Thornton

Whether you have received a grand jury target letter or have already been indicted by a grand jury, it is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side. At Thornton Criminal Defense, we have the knowledge and experience to help you navigate this complex legal process.

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges in Texas, it is important to seek legal representation as soon as possible. Contact Thornton Criminal Defense at 210-439-5627 to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can help defend your case.

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Attorney Brad Thornton is a highly experienced and Board-Certified criminal defense lawyer. With his background as a former Chief Prosecutor, he has a unique understanding of the criminal justice system and is able to provide comprehensive and effective representation to his clients. He is also deeply committed to ensuring that all individuals receive fair treatment in court, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Brad Thornton is dedicated to helping his clients achieve the best possible outcome for their case, whether it is in San Antonio or elsewhere in South Texas. He recognizes the stress and anxiety that can come with being accused of a crime, and approaches his clients with compassion while keeping them informed at every step of the process. His knowledge and experience make him a strong advocate for his clients.

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© 2023 by Thornton Criminal Defense, PLLC. 

Atascosa County Criminal Defense Attorney

San Antonio Office:

111 Soledad, Suite 401

San Antonio, Texas 78205

Tel: 210-439-5627

Atascosa Office:

216 N Bryant St

Pleasanton, Texas 78064

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