Grand Jury (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
A panel of citizens that is convened by a court to decide whether it is appropriate for the government to indict (proceed with a prosecution against) someone suspected of a crime.
An American institution since the colonial days, the grand jury has long played an important role in CRIMINAL LAW. The FIFTH AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution says that a person suspected of a federal crime cannot be tried until a grand jury has determined that there is enough reason to charge the person. Review by a grand jury is meant to protect suspects from inappropriate prosecution by the government, since grand jurors are drawn from the general population. It has been criticized at times as failing to serve its purpose.
The grand jury system originated in twelfth-century England, when King HENRY II enacted the Assize of Clarendon in order to take control of the courts from the Catholic Church and local nobility. The proclamation said that a person could not be tried as a criminal unless a certain number of local citizens appeared in court to accuse him or her of specific crimes. This group of citizens, known as the grand assize, was very powerful: it had the authority to identify suspects, present evidence personally held by individual jurors, and determine whether to make an accusation. Trial was by ordeal, so accusation meant that conviction was very likely. (Trial by ordeal involved...
(The entire section is 3415 words.)
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