What are some pros and cons of the grand jury system?  

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The grand jury process has several benefits for the American government and the people who may be involved in it. Because of the obvious expense to the government to conduct extensive criminal and civil trials, the grand jury can act as something of a staging ceremony to run through the...

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The grand jury process has several benefits for the American government and the people who may be involved in it. Because of the obvious expense to the government to conduct extensive criminal and civil trials, the grand jury can act as something of a staging ceremony to run through the litigation and legal process to see how it plays out and how worthwhile it would be to conduct a true trial. This benefits the prosecution, because they can see what they need to get a true conviction and if the case is likely to result in their success. It also benefits the taxpayer, because it is a less costly option than a full trial and allows the parties to potentially resolve the issue without going to trial.

One major disadvantage is that the grand jury process can encourage pleas and other decisions that may be unnecessary. If it seems like the grand jury will decide on a prosecution, the defendant may go ahead and plead guilty to avoid further punishment, but in reality, they may avoid the charges altogether, especially if they are innocent.

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There are a number of advantages and disadvantages of the grand jury system, which represents a major component of the criminal justice system in the United States.  

Criminal trials, especially those involving major crimes and conspiracies to commit crimes, are financially costly to the governments, state or federal, that must foot the bill.  The main advantage of a grand jury, consequently, is that it provides a system for conducting a legally-binding "dry run" before a formal and protracted criminal trial takes place.  Prosecutors will take a case before a grand jury as a way of determining whether sufficient evidence exists to advance to a trial.  In a regular criminal trial, the jury determines guilt or innocence based upon the preponderance of evidence before it.  Grand juries do not determine guilt or innocence; they determine, once again based upon the evidence presented, whether a case should go to trial.

From the prosecutor's perspective, a grand jury can be an invaluable tool in convincing potential defendants to plead guilty to the charges, to enter into an agreement with the prosecutor's office to cooperate in exchange for a reduced sentence, or to bring out information that might not be admissible in a trial.  In other words, the grand jury system provides the government a way of manipulating the criminal justice process through the mere threat of bringing individuals before the grand jury.  Because it is illegal to commit perjury before a grand jury, and because the prosecutor has more discretion in how to question witnesses than in a regular trial, the risk to the individuals subpoened to appear before the grand jury can seem very high.

Another advantage of the grand jury system, again, from the perspective of the prosecution, is the perception of impartiality on the part of a grand jury when they actually serve as an instrument of the prosecutor's office.  While a judge selects and swears in members of both regular and grand juries, the latter are not beholden to the principles that undergird the trial system, mainly the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.  Because grand juries do not determine guilt or innocence, but rather only whether sufficient evidence exists to issue an indictment and proceed to a trial, there is less of a burden on them to demonstrate impartiality.

The disadvantages of the grand jury system, therefore, tend to reside with the defendant and his or her legal representation.  Because the mere process of issuing subpoenes to individuals to testify before a grand jury is frightening to most suspects and possible conspirators -- especially for suspects granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testifying against other suspects, thereby depriving such individuals of the right against self-incrimination -- defense attornies tend to dislike the grand jury system.

As noted, the threat by prosecutors of taking a case before a grand jury is a great motivator for the defense to seriously consider its options, including cooperating with the government in exchange for a reduce sentence or in exchange for the prosecutor's office dropping its investigation against the newly cooperating witness.

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