A Grand Jury is a jury – a group of citizens – empowered by law to conduct legal proceedings and investigate potential criminal conduct, and determine whether criminal charges should be brought. A Grand Jury may subpoena physical evidence or a person to testify. A Grand Jury is separate from the courts, which do not preside over its functioning.
The United States and Liberia are the only countries that retain grand juries, though other common law jurisdictions formerly employed them, and most others now employ a different procedure that doesn't involve a jury: a preliminary hearing. Grand Juries perform both accusatory and investigatory functions. The investigatory functions of Grand Juries include obtaining and reviewing documents and other evidence, and hearing sworn testimonies of witnesses who appear before it; the accusatory function determines whether there is probable cause to believe that one or more persons committed a certain offence within the venue of a district court.
A Grand Jury in the United States is usually composed of 16 to 23 citizens, though in Virginia it has fewer members for regular or special Grand Juries. In Ireland, they also functioned as local government authorities. In Japan, the Law of 12 July 1948, created the Kensatsu Shinsakai (Prosecutorial Review Commission or PRC system), inspired by the American system.
The Grand Jury is so named because traditionally it has more jurors than a trial jury, sometimes called a petit jury (from the French word petit meaning "small").
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- A Law Dictionary by Henry Campbell Black 2nd ed, publ. by West, St Paul, Minnesota,1910. Entry for Grand Jury