The vast majority of Nevada criminal cases do not involve a grand jury at all. Grand juries are usually reserved for very serious or high profile felony allegations. Keep reading to learn more about grand juries in Las Vegas.
What is the difference between a grand jury and a trial jury in Las Vegas, NV?
The purpose of a grand jury is to determine whether the state has sufficient evidence to press criminal charges. So grand juries come into play at the beginning of a case, and they decide whether a case will go forward.
In contrast, the purpose of a trial jury (also called a "petit jury" or just plain "jury") is to determine whether the state has proven a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So trial juries come in only if the defendant goes to trial, and they decide how the case will end.
Another difference between grand juries and petit juries is that grand jury proceedings are secret, and defense counsel cannot attend. Meanwhile jury trials are open to the public, and defense counsel must be allowed to participate and present evidence.
Do all cases start with grand juries in Las Vegas, NV?
No. Most do not . . . .
When police finish a criminal investigation, they then submit their findings to state prosecutors. If the prosecutors decide to pursue the case, they have two choices of how to try to press charges in Las Vegas:
- The quickest and most common route is to submit to the court a sworn statement called an "information" charging the defendant with a crime. The judge will then set a Nevada arraignment date for the defendant to come to court and answer to the charges.
- The second, rarer route is to present the police findings to a grand jury. It then becomes the grand jury's job to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to charge the defendant with a crime. If the grand jury follows the prosecutors' recommendations to press charges, the prosecutors then submits to the court a charging document called an "indictment." Similar to an information, an indictment explains that there is probable cause that the defendant has committed a crime. Only then does the court set a Nevada arraignment date.
Grand jury proceedings can be very time-consuming, so prosecutors tend to reserve them for only felony cases that are extremely serious or that may garner public attention.
Can someone be indicted after they have already been charged through an information in Las Vegas, NV?
Unfortunately, yes. If the court dismisses a case that was originally charged through an information, the prosecutors may try to press the same charges again through a grand jury indictment.
Do people who have been indicted have the same rights as people who were charged through an information in Las Vegas, NV?
For the most part yes, except that a defendant who is charged through a grand jury indictment does not have a right to a Nevada preliminary hearing prior to trial. This is because the grand jury essentially serves the same function as a Nevada preliminary hearing, which is to determine whether the state has probable cause to press criminal charges.
What is the point of the state using grand juries in Las Vegas, NV?
Theoretically, grand juries serve as a "check" on the district attorney (or the U.S. Attorney in federal cases) by preventing the state from pressing charges when insufficient evidence exists. In practice, however, grand juries nearly always agree with the prosecutors.
Currently, the majority of states do not ever use grand juries to file state criminal charges. But grand jury indictments are required in order to charge someone with serious federal crimes in Nevada. (To learn more, go to our informational article on federal crimes in Nevada.)
What is a grand jury like in Las Vegas, NV?
Typical grand juries include 16 to 20 people. They are selected from the same pool of citizens eligible for jury duty for actual trials. Grand juries operate similarly to trial juries in that there is a foreperson and that they deliberate in secret.
Suspected of a crime in Nevada? Call us . . .
To discuss your case for free with our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys, call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). We may be able to get your charges reduced or dismissed without a trial.