All About Grand Jury Proceedings in Colorado

Grand jury proceedings may occur when a person is charged with a Colorado felony. In Colorado, a person can be charged with a felony by:

  • indictment after being charged by the grand jury; or
  • information, a separate process.

A "grand jury" is not the same as a regular jury you see during a criminal trial (called a "petit jury"). A petit jury decides guilt or innocence beyond a reasonable doubt, while a grand jury determines whether or not there is probable cause to believe that the defendant may have committed the crime.

Colorado Grand Jury Proceedings

A Colorado grand jury is made up of 12 or 23 people with 4 alternates and has three functions:

  1. to investigate alleged criminal activity;
  2. to charge (indict) individuals it believes to be responsible for the alleged criminal activity; and
  3. to provide security against unfounded accusations against innocent people.

The members of the group are drawn according to specific procedures set forth under Colorado and local law from a pool of eligible citizens.

Presentation of Evidence

A Colorado prosecutor will present evidence before the grand jury to attempt to show that the person believed to have committed the crime actually committed the crime.

The group must determine whether probable cause exists to charge the accused individual with a felony. The jurors are able to call and ask questions of any witnesses who are required to answer by law while under oath.

Federal Grand Jury Proceedings

Federal criminal charges can also be filed through the grand jury process run by the federal courts.

Under the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution, charges for certain serious felonies are required to be brought through this process.

Below, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about the grand jury process for Colorado residents:

Jury duty
Grand jury proceedings may occur when a person is charged with a Colorado felony.

1. What is a grand jury?

Grand jury proceedings may occur when a person is charged with a Colorado felony. In Colorado, a person can be charged with a felony by:

  • indictment after being charged by the grand jury; or
  • information, a separate process.

A "grand jury" is not the same as a regular jury you see during a criminal trial (called a "petit jury"). A petit jury decides guilt or innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. A grand jury determines whether or not there is probable cause to believe that the defendant may have committed the crime.

1.1 How often are grand juries used in Colorado?

In Colorado, most felony indictments are done by "information" and the grand jury process is used sparingly.

However, it is important to understand how it works and how it may affect your case if you are charged with a felony through this process.

1.2 How often are grand juries used in federal court?

In federal court, most felonies are initiated through the federal grand jury process. The 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that all prosecutions for "infamous" crimes be brought through this process. 1

This right can be waived by the defendant.

2. How is the grand jury put together?

In Colorado, the group is made up of 12 or 23 people with 4 alternates. The grand jury has three functions:

  1. to investigate alleged criminal activity;
  2. to charge (indict) individuals it believes to be responsible for the alleged criminal activity; and
  3. to provide security against unfounded accusations against innocent people.

At least 9 members of the group must meet if the jury is made up of 12 to constitute a "quorum" or an appropriately large enough group to vote. At least 12 members of the group must meet if it is made up of 23 people. 2

2.1 How are the jurors selected?

A jury is summoned by the court after a request by the attorney general or district attorney. Jurors are selected by the chief judge with the advice of the district attorney. 3

Grand jurors are summoned from the same group of eligible people as trial jurors and are picked according to Colorado law as well as local procedures.

2.2 How long does jury duty last?

Grand juror service is for a term of 12 months, but may be shorter if the court discharges them.

The term can be longer if a judge finds that it is necessary, but no term may exceed 18 months. 4

3. What does the grand jury do?

The group's main job is to determine whether there is enough evidence to send a suspect to trial for the alleged crime.

To determine whether enough evidence exists, the grand jury will:

  • hear evidence presented by the prosecutor;
  • listen to witnesses presented by the prosecutor;
  • question witnesses already called;
  • call additional witnesses if it finds it necessary;
  • review documents, testimony, or other evidence; and
  • convene to discuss and make a determination concerning probable cause.

3.1 Can the grand jury require witnesses to testify?

The grand jury has a power that even law enforcement does not have, the ability to subpoena witnesses to testify before them under oath. Witnesses are allowed to have an attorney present, but the attorney may not participate.

A witness who refuses to answer questions after being called may be held in contempt of court and could be subject to penalties, including jail. 5

3.2 Will the grand jury hear from me, my lawyer, or my witnesses?

No. Although it is the job of the grand jury to determine whether enough evidence exists to charge the suspect with a crime, the suspect is not allowed to be a part of the entire process.

The grand jury hears only the prosecutor's side of the case and must make a determination based on a one-sided view of the facts.

3.3 Does the grand jury decide if I am guilty or innocent?

No. The grand jury decides only whether probable cause exists to believe that the suspect may have committed a crime.

A petit jury at a criminal trial will determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether the suspect actually committed the alleged offense.

4. When does a grand jury issue an indictment?

If the group decides that probable cause exists to believe the suspect committed the alleged crime it can issue an indictment, also known as:

  • a "true bill;" or
  • a "presentment."

If the grand jury decides there is not enough evidence, it will not issue an indictment, but instead will issue a "no true bill," or as it is commonly called a "no bill."

4.1 Is the indictment a secret?

A district attorney may file a petition with the court requiring the court to seal the indictment. This means that no person may disclose the existence of the indictment until:

  • the defendant is in custody; or
  • the defendant has been admitted to bail; except
  • as when necessary for the issuance of a warrant or summon. 6

The reason the district attorney may seal the indictment is to prevent a suspect from fleeing law enforcement after learning about pending criminal charges.

5. Is the federal grand jury process different?

The process is similar but there are some differences between the Colorado and federal processes.

Federal grand juries must have:

  • 16 to 23 members, and
  • at least 12 members must vote to issue an indictment. 7

Only the following people may be present at a federal proceeding:

  1. the grand jurors themselves,
  2. attorneys for the government (federal prosecutors),
  3. any witnesses being questioned,
  4. interpreters, if needed, and
  5. court reporters.

As with Colorado grand juries, the accused is not typically present at the proceeding—and the proceeding takes place in secret.

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For questions about the criminal grand jury process or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us.

We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.


Legal References:

  1. U.S. Const., amend. V. (“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”)
  2. C.R.S. § 13-72-102. (Number of Jurors).
  3. C.R.S. § 13-72-103. (Selection of Jury Panel).
  4. C.R.S. § 13-71-120.
  5. C.R.S. § 16-5-204.
  6. C.R.S. § 13-72-108.
  7. Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 6.

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