In Nevada, a grand jury is a special proceeding convened at the outset of a criminal case to decide whether the state has enough evidence to prosecute (indict) a suspect for a particular crime or crimes.
Most state law criminal cases do not involve grand jury indictments. Prosecutors themselves generally make the decision as to whether they have probable cause to initiate criminal charges. But for very serious or high profile felony allegations, the district attorney may prefer to let a jury of peers determine if suspects should face charges.
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.1 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?
No. Many do not . . . .
When police finish a pre-file investigation in Nevada, 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 alternative 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 submit 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.2
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?
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?
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.
Note that in some situations, the prosecution can introduce hearsay evidence against the defendant during a grand jury. This hearsay evidence includes statements made by alleged victims of felony child abuse, child sex abuse, or felony battery domestic violence. (2015 Assembly Bill 193)
What is the point of the state using grand juries?
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 happens at a grand jury proceeding?
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.
Do defendants testify?
They may testify, but it is advised that defendants not speak at all since they are not allowed to have their attorneys present at grand juries.
The prosecution may also subpoena witnesses in Nevada to testify at the grand jury.3
Do defendants get notice?
Yes, the state is required to give the defendant notice, and to allow the defendant to present at the grand jury. If there is an indictment, the defendant is also entitled to a transcript of the proceedings.
Is there any way to fight an indictment in Las Vegas, NV?
Yes, the defense attorney can file a writ of habeas corpus challenging the indictment. If the writ is successful, the case will be dismissed. But judges rarely grant these writs of habeas corpus and instead allow the charges to be litigated in court.
To discuss your case for free with our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys, call us. We may be able to get your charges reduced or dismissed without a trial.