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Blog CategoryGrand Jury vs Trial Jury – 11 Major Differences

May 2, 20200

In this article you will learn the in depth difference between the grand jury vs trial jury.

The purpose and function of both the grand jury and the trial jury are different from each other.

This article actually presented to you after the thorough research from authoritative sources hence it indicates the expertise of the author.

You may rely on trustworthy words.

So let’s get started!

What is the grand jury? 

A grand jury is a group of citizens, based upon 16 to 23 members, who will decide whether to bring criminal charges against someone.

A prosecutor brings in evidence for different cases and the grand jury will sit for a period of time that could be for 3 to 6 months. 

Basically, when they put together a group of people to hear a case before it. It’s actually considered whether or not the case is going to be taken to trial but it’s not that simple. 

What’s the goal of having a grand jury?

The idea of a grand jury in part is to protect the citizens from overzealous prosecutors present evidence to the grand jury then the jury will decide whether to return the indictment and charge the accused or not to indict famously. 

Once said that a prosecutor could indict if you want it to and one of the things is going on in Ferguson is skepticism about how hard the prosecutor is pushed when they brought the evidence before the grand jury since there was a return of an indictment. 

The vast majority of cases that are brought before grand juries returned indictments unlike a trial, there isn’t a defense counsel and a prosecutor. 

The prosecutor is the only person in the room presenting his or her theories. 

That’s one of the reasons it’s come under criticism that it’s under the sway of the prosecutors theories because there isn’t a defense counsel who is testing the evidence in an adversarial way. 

But if a grand jury doesn’t return an indictment a prosecutor try to get.

Another most critical variable is how interested the prosecutor is in obtaining an indictment. 

What is a Trial Jury?

A trial jury is also known as regular jury, petit jury or common jury, based upon the respectable citizens from the local area to decide the question of fact. 

A trial or regular  jury consist upon 12 members having the task of trial for civil and criminal cases.

A trial jury is testing the credibility of testimony or the evidence in the case, monitored by the judge. 

In cases where the trial jury rely upon such testimony which could be permissible in the eye of law, then the judge can overrule the verdict of the jury.

What is the object of a trial jury?

The trial jury is a legal proceeding in which a jury either makes a decision or makes findings of fact which then direct the actions of a judge. 

It is distinguished from a bench trial in which a judge or panel of judges makes all decisions. 

Trials Jury are used in a significant share of serious criminal cases in almost all common law legal systems and juries or lay judges have been incorporated into the legal systems of many civil law countries for criminal cases.

Only the United States makes routine use of jury trials in a wide variety of non-criminal cases. 

Other common law legal jurisdictions use jury trials only in a very select class of cases that make up a tiny share of the overall civil docket.

For example: Defamation suits in England and Wales while a true civil trials jury is almost entirely absent elsewhere in the world.

Some civil law jurisdictions do however have arbitration panels where non legally trained members decide cases and select subject matter areas relevant to the arbitration panel members areas of expertise.

The availability of a jury trial in American jurisdictions is because the United States legal system separated from that of the English.

At the time of the American Revolution, the types of proceedings that used juries depended on whether such cases were tried by jury under English common law at that time rather than the methods used in English or UK courts in the present.

For example: At the time English courts of law tried cases of torts or private law for monetary damages but courts of equity tried civil cases seeking an injunction or another form of non-monetary relief as a result.

This practice continues in American civil laws even though in modern English law only criminal proceedings and some inquests are likely to be heard by a jury.

The practice of trial jury evolved within common law systems rather than civil law systems has had a profound impact on the nature of American Civil Procedure and Criminal Procedure rules even in cases where a bench trial is actually contemplated in a particular case.

In general, the availability of a trial jury if properly demanded has given rise to a system where fact-finding is concentrated in a single trial rather than multiple hearings and where appellate review of Trial Court decisions is greatly limited.

Trials jury is of far less importance or of no importance in countries that do not have a common law system.

Difference Between Grand Jury Vs. Trial Jury

What is the difference between a grand jury and a Trial jury?

The difference between a grand jury and a Trial jury is pretty straightforward.


1. Probable Cause:


The first difference between a grand jury and a trial jury is that a grand jury will show that there was probable cause that a crime was committed and in their opinion enough evidence to take it to trial the trial jury will only sit for one trial and decide the facts in that case.

A regular jury is if the case actually proceeds to trial.

In California state court it’s 12 jurors get picked and need to unanimously decide whether or not the case, or the charges have been proven against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, and they need to be unanimous.

What I mean by that is, in a regular jury, all 12 jurors need to agree beyond a reasonable doubt. 

So, if it’s 11 to one for guilty, that’s not a conviction. If it’s six to six for guilty or not guilty, that doesn’t result in a conviction.

2. Burden of Proof:

A grand jury has a different burden of proof, as well, because in a criminal jury, it’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

Grand jury is a way where a prosecution may proceed by way of grand jury indictment, instead of going to a preliminary hearing. 

The burden, though, is the same, pretty much.

Is it more likely than not that a crime was committed, more likely than not, the accused committed it

Now, with a grand jury, it’s guilt or not guilt, or guilt or innocence, or anything like that.

It’s that lower burden of proof and it’s a step in the process that the prosecution needs to take.

So jurors at that point are deciding it with a significantly lower burden of proof, and they’re not, or their decision is not resulting in a conviction. 

Their decision just means charges will be brought against the accused. 

So, in your situation, in the event that the grand jury hears evidence, and they return a true bill or a true finding. 

What that means is, it’s almost like a criminal court case against you or against who’s ever charged, has been fast forwarded past the preliminary hearing, and will pick up from that point onward.


What will happen after the grand jury indictment

The people who are charged in the indictment, will have their arraignment.

They will enter a not guilty plea, and then they will have a readiness conference, sort of like they would’ve had, if they had a case from beginning to end.

3. Right to cross examine:

Another major difference between a grand jury and a trial jury is a defendant’s right to be present.

In a criminal jury, obviously the criminally accused has a right to confront and cross examine witnesses against them. 

Usually your attorney will get up there and ask questions of prosecution witnesses.

But in the Grand jury, we don’t have that right. 

So, if I’m your attorney, I’m not present in the grand jury then there’s nothing I can do about that.

4. Preliminary Hearing:

Now, certainly we would get a transcript of what was said and done, and what evidence was presented. 

So we could challenge the sufficiency of the grand jury’s ruling, or their decision.

In California where the majority of my practice is located, prosecutors rarely go by route of the grand jury. 

They usually go by route of the preliminary hearing.

As a defense attorney, and particularly a criminal defense attorney.

I like that preliminary hearing a lot better than a grand jury, because I have some involvement. 

I have some control and more importantly, on behalf of my client. 

He has a right to be there and observe first hand the evidence, or lack thereof, against them.

In the Grand jury, we don’t have that right, but like I said, not a lot of cases are prosecuted by right or by way of the grand jury.

Usually, what we see are white collar cases that are very paper intensive. 

A lot of times we’ll see those types of cases go before the grand jury, particularly in San Diego, and also these drug cases where there’re multiple defendants. 

We’ll see that go by way of the grand jury sometimes. 

Also, like auto theft, if it’s a big auto theft racket, we’ll see those cases go by the grand jury.

5. Privacy or Secrecy:

A major difference between the grand jury and trial jury is, it’s a lot more secretive, because the defendants and their attorneys aren’t allowed to be there. 

A lot of times, prosecutors go that route because that way, they can present evidence without information getting leaked to the public or to other suspects, information that could possibly adversely affect their ongoing investigation.

The Supreme Court of California has sanctioned the reasons for the private functioning of the grand jury as:

  1. to prevent the escape of those whose indictment may be contemplated;
  2. to ensure the freedom and deliberations to the grand jury and to prevent them (defendants) from resisting the jurors;
  3. to prevent tampering of the evidence or witnesses who may later testify before the grand jury and appear at the trial of those indicted by it;
  4. to ensure freedom to those who have information regarding the commission of crime;
  5. to provide protection to the accused who is discharged from disclosure of the fact that he has been under investigation and from the expense of standing trial where there was probably no guilt.

6. As per Task:

Basically the task of the Grand jury is to determine whether to charge/indict the accused or not. 

But the task of a Regular jury is to find the guilt or innocence of the accused and then pronounce the verdict.

7. Number of members:

Trial jury is what we often call a regular or petit jury.

You mostly watch TV and you see jurors or individuals from the community listening to a jury trial, that’s exactly what we look at as a trial jury.

In the Federal system a trial jury consists of 12 individuals in criminal cases.

In the State system it’s 6 jurors in a criminal case except if it’s first-degree murder.

But a grand jury consists of 16 to 23 individuals in the federal system whose roles determine whether there is probable cause to charge an individual with the crime.

8. Meeting of Juries:

Trial jury arranges the meetings on a regular basis and it lasts until it gives the verdict.

However, the grand juries will only sit on when required after a month or within the year or whenever the prosecutors call them.

9. Exculpatory Evidence:

In many states of the U.S, except California, the prosecutor is not under obligation or required to present the evidence which suggests that the accused is innocent or not guilty.

The Supreme Court of the United States has settled the law that a charge/indictment is not invalid merely because the prosecution has failed to bring substantial exculpatory evidence to the grand jury.

But in California, the grand jury may require the prosecutor to bring exculpatory evidence when it has reason to believe that there is some existence of such evidence.

10. Voting Procedure:

In the trial jury out of 12 members, all the 12 must agree to convict the person indicted in the Federal system. 

But in the state system if the trial jury consists of 6 members then all the 6 members must agree to convict.

However in civil cases the ratio of the vote for final verdict is the three-fourth of the jury in accordance with the law.

Whereas, in a grand jury comprising 16 to 23 members, for an indictment, out of all the members 12 must vote for the indictment.

11. Appointment of Jurors:

It is a common question that how are grand jury members selected?

In the case of a grand jury, the appointment of the juror is based upon the sole discretion of the judge and the defendant has no right to raise any objection on any juror.


What is probable cause?

Probable cause is that the government has proven that someone committed a crime or probably committed a crime. 
It’s a lower standard than what is necessary to convict someone at trial.
It’s in our Constitution and in our Bill of Rights that if you’re going to charge someone with a federal crime or a federal felony, you have a right to be indicted. 
Which means that the government has to prove that someone probably committed a crime and they bring that proof before a grand jury which is composed of 16 to 23 individuals.
Grand juries don’t exist in the state of Florida to charge crimes except in first-degree murder cases.

How is a grand jury different from a petit jury?

The purpose and function of the trial jury or the petit jury is to conduct a trial for civil or criminal cases. 
The petit jury after conducting the complete trial announces its verdict based upon the evidence presented before it.
Whereas the grand jury does not determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. 
The basic function of the grand jury is to determine whether there exists any probable cause and the person be indicted or not.

Why does a case go to the grand jury?

The main reason for sending a case to the grand jury is to determine whether the crime was committed by the defendant or not. 
And if the grand jury finds that there exists probable cause and the crime was committed by the defendant then the grand jury indicts the person.

What is a special grand jury?

A special grand jury is called to probe out the special matter regarding the occurrence of the special crime in the specific community in its society.

What does it mean to be a petit juror?

A petit juror is a member of the petit/trial jury where the jurors examine the veracity of the evidence and testimony presented by the petitioner and the respondent and then announce its verdict accordingly.

How is a petit jury selected?

The member of the petit jury is to be selected by the judge but if the defendant have some reservation on any juror then he may raise apprehension with the specific reason.

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