Grand Jury Information

Browse by Category:

This page provides basic information regarding the grand jury and proceedings before the grand jury. 

About the Grand Jury

What is a Grand Jury?

The grand jury is a part of the common pleas court system in Ohio. One or more grand juries sit in each Ohio county for a period of four or more months at a time all year round; grand juries meet every day in some counties, once a month in others. The grand jury is composed of nine persons and not more than five alternates. All are residents of the county and were randomly selected to serve, just as trial (or petit) jurors are selected. 
The citizens of Ohio play an important role in our criminal justice system. Through service on a grand jury, everyday people instill a confidence in our society that criminal cases are independently considered and reviewed by the citizenry.

Grand juries are convened by the county courts of common pleas and consist of nine members and six alternates. Grand jurors are selected from lists of registered voters and/or licensed drivers. Most grand jurors serve for a period of two to four months. The frequency of grand jury meetings can vary from once a month to daily, depending on the case load.

A grand jury is not the same as the 12-person body that hears cases. A trial jury is technically called a “petit jury.”

County prosecuting attorneys, representing the State of Ohio, are responsible for presenting evidence and witness testimony. The grand jury listens to the evidence and testimony and decides whether the accused should be tried for a felony crime. Grand juries consider felonies, which are crimes punishable by imprisonment. Lesser offenses, called misdemeanors, are considered solely by the prosecutor’s office.

If a grand jury finds “probable cause” that a crime was committed, it returns an indictment (true bill) against the accused person, allowing the case to proceed toward a trial. An indictment may only be found by the concurrence of seven or more jurors. If a grand jury does not find “probable cause” that a crime was committed, it returns a “no bill,” and charges against the accused will be dismissed.

After all the testimony and evidence has been presented, everyone except the nine grand jury members must leave the room. The foreperson leads a discussion and conducts a vote. No vote is taken until each member has been heard. The foreperson then records the vote and files the record with the clerk of court.

The grand jurors make a pledge of secrecy. This pledge is of the utmost importance, is permanent and applies to all aspects of the grand jury proceedings. Grand jury deliberations and votes, as well as the names of witnesses and questions considered shall not be disclosed. There are two reasons for this oath of secrecy. First, accusations may be brought before the jury, which, after its examination, may deem the accusation as unfounded. If publicity were given to the fact that the grand jury had investigated a person or organization, their reputation might be ruined. Second, if a person who is likely to be charged with a criminal offense by the grand jury should learn of the investigation, he or she might flee.

The grand jury can investigate any crime committed within the county. However, an inquiry must be crime-related and directed by honest and conscientious motives to decide if a person should be charged with a crime. When considering any special investigation, the details are worked out with the judge or prosecutor. Grand jurors may require the clerk of court to issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear and testify. However, grand jurors are not detectives or prosecutors authorized to make private investigations.

Ordinary citizens make up the grand jury and decide whether enough evidence exists to send a case to trial. A grand jury exercises diligence, impartiality and secrecy to protect innocent people from false accusations and to assure accused persons that any evidence against them is considered fairly.

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

Although grand juries and trial juries are both made up of average people who were called for jury duty, they serve very different purposes.

What is a grand jury? 

A grand jury helps the prosecutor decide whether to bring criminal charges against a suspect in a crime. Grand juries typically consist 8 people and a foreperson,  and the jurors may have jury duty for months at a time. However, jurors will have to work only a few days out of the month.

Grand juries will work closely with the prosecutor, who will explain the law to the jurors. The jurors then have the power to view almost any kind of evidence they wish and to interrogate anyone they like. The procedure for grand jury hearings is very relaxed to allow the jurors as much flexibility as possible. Typically, the parties that appear before the grand jury do not have attorneys, and the rules of evidence allow much more evidence than is allowed at a criminal trial. Grand jury proceedings are held in strict confidence to encourage witnesses to speak freely, as well as to protect the suspect if the grand jury decides not to bring charges.

A grand jury's decision is not the final step in a case. Prosecutors use grand jury proceedings as test-runs for trials and take a grand jury's decision very seriously.

What is a trial jury? 

Trial juries decide the facts of a case a formal trial, and usually consist of eight (for misdemeanor cases) to twelve (for felony cases) people. If a juror is selected for trial, they will have to work every day of the trial, which could last a few days, several weeks, or even months.

Trial court procedure is very strict and controlled entirely by the judge. Each party in a trial typically has an attorney. Unlike a grand jury, a trial jury usually has no say in what evidence they get to see. Evidence in trials is carefully chosen by each party's attorney and must adhere to a set of rules designed to ensure that the evidence is reliable. 

A trial jury's decision is final. Although a decision may be appealed, a trial jury's determination of the facts will hold throughout the entire appeal process.

What is the purpose of a grand jury?

The grand jury actually has two purposes. First, it reviews criminal charges which have already been brought by the police and prosecutors to determine whether or not these charges are supported by probable cause (substantial probability that a crime was committed and that the individual charged committed it). By this so-called indicting function, the grand jury serves as a shield between an innocent accused person and an over-zealous prosecutor. It protects the accused person's right to be free from unreasonable charges which can take away his liberty, harm his reputation, and cause him expense. 

Second, the grand jury can initiate criminal charges after conducting investigations of possible criminal behavior within the county. To carry out this investigative function, the grand jury is given several powers: 1) its proceedings are secret (open only to a prosecutor, a recorder, and the grand jurors); 2) it can summon (subpoena) persons to appear and testify or to bring needed documents for the grand jury to review; and 3) it can punish those who fail to cooperate with the investigation by holding them in contempt and placing them in jail (unless the person has a valid claim that he is not required to submit to the grand jury's inquiry). If the investigating grand jury finds probable cause to believe crimes were committed, it may issue indictments. 

What is the History of the Grand Jury?

The grand jury is an ancient institution.  The history of the grand jury is set forth in the Cleveland State Law Review article found at 48 Clev. St. L. Rev. 829 and reproduced for educational purposes:

A. Origins in England

The origins of the grand jury can be traced back to the Assize of Clarendon issued in 1166.   Prior to the issuance of the Assize, a subject could be charged by the victim of a crime before one of the baronial courts.  The verdict at trial was based on either the ability of the accused to find eleven people who would swear to his innocence or his ability to survive a trial by battle or ordeal.   With the issuance of the Assize in 1166, Henry II changed the way in which trials were conducted. The Assize required that "an inquiry . . . be made in each community by twelve of its 'good and lawful men.'"   These jurors were put under oath and questioned by traveling justices of the peace or the sheriff.   It was the duty of the jurors to accuse anyone they suspected, and those who were accused were then tried by ordeal.   Thus, the Assize enabled the King to create a citizens' police force, thereby allowing him to maintain central control over criminal prosecution and generating more charges than the previous criminal justice system.  

Over the next few centuries the grand jury continued to assist the government in apprehending criminals,  but by the seventeenth century the grand jury found itself in conflict with the government. In the late seventeenth century, with the bitter religious struggle between the Anglican church and the Protestant church emerging in England, the Crown began to pressure grand juries to indict notorious supporters of the Protestant cause.  Grand juries refused to succumb to that pressure in several cases, including two that attracted much attention. In the cases of Stephen Colledge and the Earl of Shaftesbury, both accused of high treason, the grand jury refused to indict   and thus maintained some independence from the Crown. Although the  Crown later received an indictment against Colledge, the Shaftesbury and Colledge cases led the grand jury to be commemorated as a "bulwark against the oppression and despotism of the Crown."  During the same period, grand juries became important in battling governmental corruption because they issued presentments on the basis of their inquiries into the misconduct of minor officials in matters of local administration.   Thus, grand juries came to be viewed with increasing respect. John Somers, Lord Chancellor of England, in his tract, The Security of Englishment's Lives, claimed that "grand juries are our only security, in as much as our lives cannot be drawn into jeopardy by all the malicious crafts of the devil, unless such a number of our honest countrymen shall be satisfied in the truth of the accusations."  By the end of the seventeenth century, grand juries had become crucial in protecting the rights and privileges of English citizens.

B. Coming to America

In addition to many other institutions of English law, the grand jury became an important part of the criminal process when the colonists settled in America in the seventeenth century. The first formal grand juryproceeding was held in Massachusetts in 1635, and by 1683 some form of the grand jury existed in every colony.   Grand juries returned indictments for criminal offenses, and quite often presentments, which were different from indictments because the grand jurors initiated the investigation and were able to offer any evidence they personally possessed.  Although the grand jury played an important role in enforcing criminal law, it soon developed into an agent of the colonial government beyond enforcing criminal law.   The English grand jury had occasionally used the presentment to criticize action or inaction on the part of government officials.  The American grand juries extensively used that authority, and their presentment "reports" became the primary means for citizens to complain on a wide range of matters.  As discontent with England's colonial policies grew, these reports were most frequently aimed at the Crown's officials in America.   At the same time, colonial grand juries came into conflict with royal officials regarding appropriate cases for criminal prosecution.  For example, the prosecution of John Peter Zenger for seditious libel was brought by a prosecutor's information rather than an indictment because colonial grand juries twice refused to issue the requested indictments.  Conversely, grand juries issued criminal presentments against many royal officials, including British soldiers, on which the Crown refused to prosecute.  

After the colonists won independence from the British in the American Revolution, the right to an indictment before a grand jury was included within the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.   By this time the grand jury had come to serve two major functions, and it still serves those functions today. On the one hand, the grand jury is comparable to a "shield" in that it operates as a "screening agency," standing between the government and the individual.  In determining whether to issue an indictment, the grand jury examines the prosecutor's evidence and "screens" his or her decision to charge.   If the grand jury refuses to indict when the evidence is insufficient or when the prosecution seems unfair, the grand jury is said to, "function as a shield, standing between the accuser and the accused, protecting the individual citizen against oppressive and unfounded government prosecution."   In addition to its screening function, the grand jury also serves an investigative function by assisting the government in examining situations that are still at the inquiry stage.   Using its investigative powers, the grand jury is able to uncover evidence that was not previously available to the prosecution and to assist the government in obtaining convictions that the government would not have secured on its own.   Thus, in its investigative capacity, the grand jury is similar to a "sword" because it enables the government to prosecute criminals. 

Several court cases have emphasized the screening function of the grand jury and acknowledged that the purpose of the grand jury is to protect the innocent. One  significant case asserting the protective function of the grand jury is Wood v. Georgia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the main purpose of the grand jury is to protect innocent people against "hasty, malicious, and oppressive persecution."  In recent years, however, the role of the grand jury as protector of the accused has been questioned;  commentators and courts have come to view the grand jury indictment as a "rubber stamp" for the prosecutor's charging decisions.  At the same time the protective function of the grand jury has been challenged, courts have emphasized the accusatory function of the grand jury, holding that the purpose of the grand jury is to determine whether probable cause exists to charge a person with a crime. A key case emphasizing the accusatory role of the grand jury is United States v. Williams, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the defendant should not be permitted to introduce exculpatory as well as inculpatory evidence because doing so would change the grand jury's role, "transforming it from an accusatory to an adjudicatory body."  

C. The Role of the Grand Jury Today

Today, in most jurisdictions, the grand jury panel is chosen from the same constituency as the petit jury is chosen.  In most jurisdictions, prospective grand jurors are chosen from a standard list (usually a voter registration list) that represents a cross-section of the community.  Because grand jurors sit for longer terms than  petit jurors, the grand jury system allows for more leniency in excusing people who claim that jury service will lead to severe hardship.  Consequently, in many jurisdictions, the grand jury may have a heavier grouping than the petit jury of dependent spouses, retirees, and people whose employers will continue to pay them during jury service.  The size of the grand jury also differs from the size of the petit jury. The federal system requires sixteen to twenty-three grand jurors, and twelve votes are needed for an indictment.   Although many state grand juries impanel the same number of jurors as the federal system does, other jurisdictions set different numerical requirements for their grand juries.  

The jurors in both the state and federal systems have the duty of determining whether there is "probable cause" to believe that the accused has committed a crime.  If the grand jury finds that there are adequate grounds for the charge against the accused, it votes to return an indictment against the accused--it "true bills" the charge.   On the other hand, if the grand jury decides that there are not adequate grounds for the charge, it votes not to return an indictment--it "no bills" the charge.  The high percentage of cases resulting in true bills is a situation that is to be expected in light of the fact that the grand juryhears only one side of the case and the fact that "no counter to the prosecutor appears before the grand jury."  Thus, the main function of the grand jury today is probably not to refuse an indictment, but to compel the prosecution to gather and provide evidence in a clear, cohesive manner before a charge is brought.  

My Service as a Grand Juror

Will I be paid for my service as a Grand Juror?

Yes. The compensation of grand jurors shall is fixed by resolution of the board of county commissioners. By law, the compensation may not exceed forty dollars for each day's attendance, payable out of the county treasury.   The current per diem is $20.00 per day.

You will be paid at the end of your term by a warrant issued by the Union County Auditor.

What if I cannot attend a session due to illness, vacation or other situation?

While your duty as a grand juror is of vital importance, we understand that situations arise making your service impossible on a particular date.  Should this occur, please notify Karen Williamson at (937) 645-4190 or by e-mail.

When is the next grand jury meeting date?

For your convenience, we have set out a Grand Jury calendar here.  

Instructions of Law

What are my duties as a Grand Juror?

As a Grand Juror, you must follow your oath and the Instructions of Law given to you by the Court.  At the beginning of the Grand Jury term, the judge will instruct you as follows:

I will now give you the instructions of law governing you in the performance of your duties.
You will hear testimony and determine whether persons suspected of the commission of crime should or should not be indicted. It is mandatory that you follow these instructions.
The Constitution of Ohio provides that no person may be placed on trial for a felony unless indicted by a grand jury. This constitutional provision was designed to be a barrier against unjust prosecution. The grand jury should be the means of protecting persons from unfounded accusations. Indictments should be returned against those who you find are probably guilty of the commission of a crime, after an honest and impartial examination.
The oath just administered to you contains some essential principles that should govern you in your deliberations. It contains your promise to keep secret the testimony and deliberations of the grand jury.
There are two reasons for this oath of secrecy. First, you may have accusations brought before you which, after examination, you will find unfounded. If publicity were given to the fact that the grand jury had investigated a person or organization, their reputation might be ruined.
The second reason for the oath of secrecy is that if a person who is likely to be charged with a criminal offense by the grand jury should learn of the investigation he or she might flee.
The deliberations of the grand jury and the individual vote of any grand juror shall not be disclosed. Disclosure of matters other than your deliberations and your individual votes may be made to the prosecuting attorney for use in the performance of his/her duties. A grand juror, prosecuting attorney, and other official assisting the grand jury may disclose matters occurring before the grand jury, other than the deliberations or the vote, when and only when so directed by the court preliminary to or in connection with a judicial proceeding.
No grand juror, officer of the court, or other person shall disclose that an indictment has been found against a person or organization before such indictment is filed and the case docketed.
Your work is protected by law. It is a crime for others to attempt to influence, intimidate or hinder you in the discharge of your duties. Any such attempt should be reported immediately to the judge.
You will hear only one side of a case. It is not your duty to decide the guilt or innocence of the accused. It is your duty to determine whether there is sufficient evidence or probable cause to require an accused to stand trial. If the evidence fails to establish the probability of guilt you must refuse to return an indictment.
Unjust or unfounded indictments should not be returned against anyone. On the other hand, it is equally important that indictments shall be returned against those who are probably guilty of criminal acts.
No person may be compelled to be a witness against himself or herself. A witness who testifies about his or her own participation in crime must first be advised by the prosecuting attorney in your presence of his or her constitutional rights.
You must be fair and just; you must be guided by an impartial spirit. It is your duty to indict anyone who ought to be indicted and you should not fail to indict such person from either fear, friendship, reward or hope of reward. You must present the truth to the best of your ability and understanding. You must put aside all feelings of prejudice that might in any way interfere with the impartial performance of your duty. No grand juror has the right to permit his or her judgment to be influenced by a racial, religious, social, political or personal feeling. You shall indict no one because of malice, hatred or ill will.
The tendency of private individuals to publicly imply the existence of crime or to create public situations to influence the grand jury is an abuse of the purpose and spirit of the institution. No one may demand consideration by the grand jury for personal exoneration. No one may request the grand jury to investigate another for a crime to avoid the law of libel and slander.
Under the laws of Ohio, you have the power to investigate any crime committed in this county. However, you are not a general inquiring body. Your authority to investigate of crime is almost unlimited. Your investigation, however, must be directed by honest and conscientious motives to determine whether a person or persons should be charged with a specific crime.
No investigation should be made for the purpose of issuing reports intended to criticize or compliment any person or organization.
The prosecuting attorney and his/her assistant prosecutors are by law the representatives of the State of Ohio in all criminal prosecutions. You will be working with (insert name of prosecutor[s]). It is his/her duty to be present with the grand jury in order to present the evidence, to give advice touching upon any matter of law which may be raised and to examine the witnesses. It is your duty to follow the instructions of the prosecutor on matters of law, unless you are instructed to the contrary by the court. However, you are the sole judges of the facts, and neither the prosecuting attorney nor any of his/her assistant prosecutors have the right to influence you in your decision upon questions of fact.
You, as well as the prosecuting attorney, have the right to require the clerk of courts to issue subpoenas for witnesses to be brought before you to testify.
You are at liberty at any time to call for further instructions from the court, although information which the prosecutor and his/her assistant prosecutors give you will probably be sufficient.
The prosecuting attorney, the witnesses under examination, interpreters when needed and a stenographer or operator of a recording device may be present while the grand jury is in session, except that no person other than the jurors may be present while the grand jury is deliberating or voting.
___________________ is appointed foreperson of this grand jury. The foreperson shall have the power to administer oaths and affirmations. He/She or another juror designated by him/her shall keep a record of the vote of the grand jurors. He/She shall file the record of the vote with the clerk of courts. The record shall not be made public except on order of the court.
Alternate grand jurors, in the order in which they are called, shall replace grand jurors who are unable or disqualified to perform their duties. Alternate grand jurors may be present while the grand jury is in session, except that only the nine voting grand jurors may be present during deliberation or vote.
An indictment may be found only upon the concurrence of seven or more grand jurors. When so found, the foreperson shall sign the indictment in that capacity and shall return the same to the court. If the defendant is in custody or has been released to bail, and seven jurors do not concur in finding an indictment, the foreperson shall immediately report to the court that no indictment was returned.
It is the duty of the grand jury every three months to visit the county jail, examine its conditions, and inquire into the discipline and treatment of the prisoners, their habits, diet and accommodations. You shall report on these matters to the court in writing.
I want to thank each of you in advance for taking time out of your busy lives to undertake this important civic duty. I realize that each of you is making a personal sacrifice but I believe you will find this experience to be one of the more interesting of your lives. You will be performing one of the absolutely vital functions in the administration of justice under our American system. This is direct citizen participation in government. You have the thanks of this court, and the community at large.
Do any of the grand jurors have any questions at this time?
Is there anything further from the prosecuting attorney?
You may now retire to the grand jury room.


What Oath will I be required to swear to or affirm as a Grand Juror?

As a member of the Grand Jury, you will take the following oath:

Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will diligently inquire into and carefully deliberate all matters that shall come to your attention concerning this service; and do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will keep secret all proceedings of the grand jury unless you are required in a court of justice to make disclosure; and do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will indict no person through malice, hatred, or ill will; and do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will not leave unindicted any person through fear, favor, or affection, or for any reward or hope thereof; and do you solemnly swear or affirm that in all your deliberations you will present the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, according to the best of your skill and understanding, as you shall answer unto God or under the penalties of perjury?
If so, say "I do solemnly swear" or "I do solemnly affirm."

This oath guides your deliberations and sets forth your duties.

What are some terms I may hear?

Terms include. 

Grand Jury Witnesses

What happens if I am subpoenaed as a witness before grand jury?

If you recevie a subpoena to appear to appear before a grand jury, the subpeona is may require your appearance, or may be a subpeona duces tecum.  A subpoena duces tecum (Lat. bring with you) is an order for  you to appear and bring with you some document, piece of evidence or other thing to be inspected - typically this is a business or other record.

You must appear at the location specified in the subpoena at the date and time listed.  If you are unable to do so, contact the prosecutor's office at (937) 645-4190 with an explanation as to why you cannot appear.

Failure to honor a subpoena is punishable by a finding of contempt. 

Can I have an attorney with me if I am called to testify before a grand jury?

If you are called to testfiy before a grand jury, you may have an attorney accompany you.  However, the attorney will not be permitted to enter the grand jury room.  Should you require legal advice from your attorney, notify the prosecutor. You will be excused so that you may consult with your attorney before answering the question. 

Do I have any rights as a witness testifying before a grand jury?

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution which prohibits compelled self-incrimination applies in grand jury proceedings.  In order to secure the U.S. Const. amend V privilege of a putative defendant-witness in the context of a grand jury proceeding, the following warning is required:

After being sworn, but prior to any questioning, the witness must be told that he has a constitutional privilege to refuse to answer any question that might incriminate him. The witness must be warned that any incriminating answers or statements he does make can be used against him in a subsequent prosecution. Finally, the witness must be advised that he may have an attorney outside the grand jury room and may consult with him if he wishes.

The prosecutor need not advise the witness that he is suspected of criminal activity or that he is a "target" of the investigation. 

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution which prohibits compelled self-incrimination applies in grand jury proceedings.  In order to secure the U.S. Const. amend V privilege of a putative defendant-witness in the context of a grand jury proceeding, the following warning is required:

After being sworn, but prior to any questioning, the witness must be told that he has a constitutional privilege to refuse to answer any question that might incriminate him. The witness must be warned that any incriminating answers or statements he does make can be used against him in a subsequent prosecution. Finally, the witness must be advised that he may have an attorney outside the grand jury room and may consult with him if he wishes.

The prosecutor need not advise the witness that he is suspected of criminal activity or that he is a "target" of the investigation.