As a former Manhattan Prosecutor I have presented hundreds of cases to grand juries in New York. As a partner at a prominent criminal defense firm I have sat with clients inside the grand jury as they were questioned by prosecutors. With recent news reports about the a New York County Grand Jury considering charges against New York Giants stars Plaxico Burress and Antonio Pierce, it is important to understand exactly what a grand jury is and how it operates.
No person may be tried on a felony charge in New York unless a grand jury has considered evidence and voted an indictment or unless the person has waived indictment. The grand jury itself is made up of between 16 and 23 people. They are charged with the duty of hearing and examining evidence involving offenses or misconduct whether or not the misconduct is criminal. In order for a grand jury to vote an indictment 12 of the grand jurors must vote to indict.
The burden to vote for an indictment is low. A grand juror need only find that there is reasonable cause to believe that a person committed an offense. In laymans terms that means that a grand jury need only find sufficient evidence to accuse a person of having committed a felony. This is a very different standard than the proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” needed to convict someone of a crime.