Grand Jury Investigations
Criminal prosecutions are usually started based upon a sworn document signed by the prosecutor, known as an information. However, a case may be opened based on an indictment issued by a grand jury. Both the Florida criminal justice system and the federal system utilize the grand jury process to investigate crimes and issue indictments. The Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C. can provide invaluable assistance at this early stage of the criminal justice process by helping you to protect your rights and avoid becoming the subject of a grand jury investigation or indictment.
What is a Grand Jury?
A grand jury is a panel of individuals brought together to hear evidence of alleged crimes, and to consider suspects brought to their attention by a state or federal prosecutor. A Florida grand jury may be made up of between 15-18 people, and a federal grand jury can be composed of 16-23 persons. A Florida grand jury session lasts for 18 months, while a federal grand jury can last from 18-24 months, or up to 36 months in special cases. During that time, the grand jury may meet at regular intervals, or whenever called upon by the prosecutor or court, to hear information regarding a potential indictment.
Having the power to issue indictments appears to make the grand jury a very significant player in the criminal justice system–and it is. In reality, however, it is the prosecutor who holds all of the power. Grand juries are rarely independent in practice and tend to follow the lead of the prosecutor, issuing indictments as requested by the U.S. or state attorney. Also, grand jury proceedings take place in secret, thus removing the process from public scrutiny.
The grand jury also exists to investigate ongoing criminal activity, as advised by the prosecutor or the court. The prosecutor, through the grand jury, can subpoena witnesses to testify under oath, and can also subpoena the production of documents or other evidence. When you are called to testify before a grand jury, it may be extremely difficult to know if you are being sought as a witness or as the subject of the investigation. You can go from being a witness to becoming a target of the investigation, based solely on the testimony you give.
If you are subpoenaed as a witness, can you be compelled to testify, even if what you say may incriminate you? This is a difficult and complex area of the law. The Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protects you from being forced to testify against yourself, but often a grand jury grants immunity from prosecution in order to obtain your testimony. In some cases, you could be held in contempt for refusing to testify, or prosecuted for perjury or making false statements if your testimony appears untruthful or contradictory to earlier statements.
Types of Immunity for Testifying Before a Grand Jury
There are different types of immunity and different labels applied to the same types of immunity. For grand jury purposes, the two most important types of immunity are transactional immunity and use immunity.
Transactional Immunity (also known as “blanket” or “full” immunity) means that you may not be prosecuted for any crimes related to the testimony you give. Transactional immunity is not granted in the federal system.
Use Immunity means that any testimony you give to the grand jury will not be used against you, although you can still be prosecuted for a related crime if the government has other evidence to use against you. That evidence, however, cannot be derived from the testimony you gave. This type of use immunity is called “derivative use” immunity. Use immunity is much more common than transactional immunity, and may be granted in both Florida and federal grand juries.
How an Attorney Can Help
An attorney can help you prepare for the proceeding in many ways. Your lawyer can work with the prosecuting attorney to find out what information will be sought in the grand jury, and whether you may be considered a subject of the investigation or merely a witness. Your lawyer can also work to get exculpatory evidence (evidence tending to show that you are not guilty of a crime) into the courtroom and in front of the grand jury. Your attorney may also be able to challenge the legality of a grand jury or its actions in certain circumstances. Importantly, your lawyer can prepare you to testify and negotiate the right type of immunity to protect your interests.
An attorney cannot speak for you in a grand jury proceeding. However, you do have the right to consult with your attorney before answering any questions. Depending upon whether you are testifying before a state or federal grand jury, your lawyer may be in the room with you, or you may need to leave the courtroom to speak to your lawyer. In either case, it is important to remember that you have this right.
Help with Federal and Florida Grand Jury Proceedings
If you are called to testify before a grand jury, or if you receive a target letter from the Department of Justice or other law enforcement agency, immediately contact an attorney who is experienced in grand jury proceedings. In Miami, Fort Lauderdale and all of Florida, contact the Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C. for valuable legal advice and effective representation.