If it is your first brush with the law in New York, it is easy to be confused about the criminal trial process. There are so many steps it is hard to know what is coming next.
For example, you may have been told that after your arraignment you will have a grand jury hearing, but what does that mean? Is it the same as a trial?
A grand jury hearing is not the same as a trial. It occurs early in the criminal trial process, after your arraignment but before your trial. The purpose of a grand jury hearing is to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to move forward with a trial.
What happens at a grand jury hearing?
There is no judge at a grand jury hearing. Evidence can be presented, and witness testimony can be heard at a grand jury hearing. Witnesses enjoy immunity, meaning they cannot face prosecution for what they say at the grand jury hearing.
After all testimony and evidence is presented, the grand jury will decide whether this all is sufficient to continue on to a trial.
Sometimes you may have been charged with a felony crime. The grand jury could find that there is not enough evidence to try you for the felony crime, but there is enough evidence to charge you with a lesser crime. If so, your charges will be reduced.
If the grand jury finds that the evidence against you is insufficient to move forward with a trial, the charges against you will be dismissed.
What happens after a grand jury hearing?
The grand jury’s decision is referred to as an “indictment.” After the grand jury hearing, you will be arraigned again, and you will be told what charges you face.
At this point, you can plead either “guilty” or “not guilty.” Following that is the pre-trial process, which includes all the other steps leading up to your trial.
A grand jury hearing can be stressful but remember it is just one step in the criminal trial process. While you may have to move forward with a trial, it is possible that the grand jury will dismiss your case.
So do not lose hope. If you are concerned about your rights following an arrest it can help to work with an attorney.