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What does a grand jury do?

You get arrested and charged with a crime in Nevada, and your case goes before a grand jury. What does this mean for you? What is the grand jury trying to decide? If this is your first time dealing with the criminal justice system, you may face a fair amount of confusion that can make everything seem far more complicated than it really is. It's important to know where you stand and how the process works.

A petit jury

First off, let's look at a petit jury. This is what most people think of as a "traditional" jury. It may have a dozen jurors, or only six. It's smaller than a grand jury, and its role is much different.

The petit jury is the one that decides if you are guilty or innocent. In a trial, you and your defense team get a chance to plead your case. The prosecution outlines their position and also presents evidence. If you're pleading not guilty, you try to convince the jury that you did not do it -- or that what you did was lawful in some fashion -- and they decide if you're guilty. If you are, then the judge gives you a sentence.

When you see a jury on a movie or a TV show, it is typically a petit jury, not a grand jury.

Guilt or innocence

If your case goes to a grand jury, that happens before it goes to a petit jury. Neither guilt nor innocence is up for debate. Instead, the grand jury strictly determines if the case should go to trial at all.

For instance, perhaps the police have no hard evidence at all that you committed the crime they accused you of committing. You could even argue that they never should have arrested you in the first place. Perhaps it was based on little more than some assumptions that the officers made at the scene.

When the grand jury sees your case, they typically do it secretly, and they don't need to hear your side of the story. They just want to look at that evidence or lack thereof. They examine it, decide if going to trial even makes sense, and then offer their judgment.

If they say the evidence warrants a trial, that in no way means you're guilty. They may think you're completely innocent, but they saw enough evidence to warrant going into a courtroom to sort it out. If they decide that the case shouldn't go to trial, that also does not technically mean you're innocent. It just means they don't think there is enough evidence, there is no chance of conviction and a criminal trial would be a waste of time and resources.

Your rights

Has this helped you understand the process a bit more? Remember, you need to know your rights and what options you have at every stage.

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