Lake County, Ohio - Common Pleas Court General Division

Grand Jury

    Welcome to Lake County, Ohio - General Division Courts Grand Jury

    A WELCOME NOTE FROM THE JUDGES

     

         Welcome to service on the Grand Jury.  Your everyday experience is needed to help our justice system work.  A group of nine men and women will decide whether fellow citizens will be placed on trial for criminal offenses.

     

         The Grand Jury is a time-honored institution which has existed from the very beginning of our life as a nation.  Both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Ohio provide that, with certain few exceptions, no person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless upon a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.  An indictment is a written accusation of crime against one or more persons preferred by the Grand Jurors upon their oath or affirmation.

     

         As a member of the Grand Jury, you have two responsibilities: 1) to protect innocent persons from needless accusations, and 2) to assure accused persons that any evidence against them is considered fairly.

     

    IMPORTANCE

     

         The Grand Jury becomes a sword and shield of justice: a sword, because it strikes at criminals; and a shield, because it protects the innocent against unjust prosecution.  Its power increases because it is an independent body answerable to only the Court.

     

         Chief Justice Harlan Stone, previously of the United States Supreme Court, stated: “Jury service is one of the highest duties of citizenship for by it the citizen participates in the administration of justice between man and man, and between government and the individual.”

     

         No group of citizens can perform a service more vital than functioning as a Grand Jury.

     

    WHAT THE GRAND JURY DOES

     

         The Grand Jury decides whether a person should be tried for a serious crime.  In Ohio, an accused person may give up this right.  If a person does not waive this right, a Grand Jury made up of private citizens then decides whether or not prosecution will go forward.

     

         Grand Juries deal with felonies which are crimes that are deemed serious offenses by the Ohio General Assembly or otherwise punishable by imprisonment for over one year.  Lesser offenses, called misdemeanors, are considered solely by the prosecutor’s office.

     

         Although hearing testimony, you are not trying the case.  You hear only evidence presented by the prosecution.  You decide whether that evidence, taken by itself, justifies the formal charge of a crime.  The judge and prosecutor advise you about the legal principles to consider.

     

         You will vote a true bill when there is sufficient evidence to require a trial.  If not, vote not a true bill.  In Ohio, seven of the nine votes are required to indict.

     

        The county prosecutor most frequently brings criminal charges to the Grand Jury.  In these instances, the accused could be either in custody or released on bail.  Action should be prompt and result in a vote on the issues.

     

         Charges also come from other sources, such as a juror’s personal knowledge, matters brought to a juror’s attention, or information volunteered by private citizens heard in Grand Jury session.  If the accused has not yet been arrested, the Court and prosecutor will help you to proceed.  If a true bill is finally voted, it should be endorsed as secret, not for public knowledge until released by the Court.

     

         To protect you from secret influences, no one has the right to contact you or another member to exert pressure.  Refer anyone offering information about a possible crime to the prosecutor.  The information should be heard by the entire Grand Jury. Any citizen can ask to testify in order to urge investigation of a certain situation.

     

         A Grand Juror is a public official who is obligated to protect the public by enforcing the law.  If the law appears harsh, it is still the law.  As a citizen, you have the right to try to change the law, but as an official you have the duty to enforce it as it exists.

     

         Grand Jury investigations are limited by law.  They may be directed at public officials, offices, or institutions to see if a crime has been committed.  Once during its term, the Grand Jury is required to inspect the county jail and file a written report dealing with conditions in the facility.

     

    ORGANIZATION, OATH, AND OFFICERS

     

        Service on the jury is important; attend all sessions.  If there is a schedule conflict, tell the Court as far ahead as possible.  Try to speak to the judge in person.  When this is impossible, call or write giving the necessary information.

     

         By law, the oath requires diligence, impartiality and secrecy.  The following part of the oath is given throughout the country:

     

         “ . . . you will diligently inquire, and true presentment make of all such matters and things as shall be given you in charge or otherwise come to your knowledge, touching the present service; the counsel of the state, your own, and your fellows, you shall keep secret unless called on in a court of justice to make disclosures; and you shall present no person through malice, hatred, or ill will, nor shall you leave any person unpresented through fear, favor, or affection, or for any reward or hope thereof .  .  . “

     

         In the Charge to the Grand Jury, the judge explains carefully the duties and responsibilities noted in the oath.  The county prosecutor is available for suggestions.  In event of a question, the Court decides.  The Court is the final authority as to powers, functions, and duties of the jurors.

     

    PROCEDURE

     

    (a) Quorum

     

         A Grand Jury consists of nine members, including the foreperson, plus five alternates.  Nine jurors represent a quorum.  If less than this quorum exists, proceedings must stop.

     

         If you find that an emergency interferes with your attendance, tell the judge promptly so a substitute can be obtained.  The Court appoints one qualified elector or one of the jurors to be foreperson and one of the jurors to be deputy foreperson.  During the foreperson’s absence or disqualification, the deputy foreperson acts as foreperson.

     

    (b) Hearing Witnesses

     

         Most of your work concerns hearing witnesses and determining sufficient evidence.  The prosecuting attorney states and explains the charge to you and advises which witnesses will be presented.  Witnesses appear voluntarily, or at the request of the prosecuting attorney, or the Grand Jury, or upon subpoena from the Grand Jury, or the Court.  The Grand Jury may call additional witnesses.

     

         These witnesses are called one-by-one and sworn to tell the truth.  The foreperson shall administer oaths or affirmations.  The prosecuting attorney ordinarily first questions the witness.  Then the foreperson, and then other members or the Grand Jury may ask proper questions of any witness.

     

         All questions are to be impartial and objective, without indicating a questioner’s viewpoint.  A stenographer or audio-transcription operator may record the proceedings.  Except for the prosecuting attorney, the stenographer or operator, or interpreter, and the witness, only Grand Jurors are present.  The stenographer and/or interpreter are also sworn to secrecy as to the proceedings.

     

         By statute, if a witness refuses to answer a question before the Grand Jury, inform the Court.  In writing, state the question along with the witness’ excuse for refusing to answer.  The Court determines whether the witness is required to answer.  This probably involves a technical question of constitutional freedom from self-incrimination.  If it does, the witness cannot be forced to answer.  If it does not, the Court orders the witness to answer.  If the witness fails to do so, the Court orders the witness held, or tried, for contempt.

     

         The Grand Jury does not try the case, but determines whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a trial.  The defendant is not called as a witness, nor are witnesses called to offer testimony for the defendant.  If the defendant wants to testify, the Grand Jury has the option to permit it.  You cannot force the defendant to testify because of constitutional safeguards against self-incrimination.  If you try to force an accused to appear, an indictment can be voided.

     

         If the defendant willingly testifies, it must be made clear that doing so is voluntary.  The defendant must be warned of constitutional rights.  Then the accused must state for the record the decision to waive the right to remain silent.  If you take the initiative and offer to let the accused testify, the Grand Jury creates a problem.  If the defendant declines, you may be influenced by the exercise of that constitutional right.  This should not be allowed to create a bias against the accused.

     

         Legal questions may arise about “proper” evidence.  Evidence law is technical.  The prosecutor or the Court will guide you.

     

         Finally, neither a target of investigation nor a witness is allowed to have an attorney present in the Grand Jury’s hearing room during questioning.  This is unlawful.

     

    (c) Determination to Indict or Dismiss

     

         After hearing all necessary or available witnesses, everyone must leave the room except jury members.  Any alternate jurors are excused.  The foreperson leads a discussion and conducts a vote on finding a true bill.  No vote is taken until each member has been heard.  Seven of the nine members must agree before an indictment can be found.  The foreperson signs all indictments.

     

         If, after examining the testimony, you are convinced that the accused is probably guilty of a crime different from the one charged, an indictment may be returned on the new charge.  This may be an included offense or an entirely new offense. If this question arises, ask the prosecutor or Court’s advice.

     

         The foreperson, or another juror chosen by the foreperson, records the number of jurors agreeing in the finding of every indictment and files the record with the Clerk of Court.

     

    PROSECUTING ATTORNEY

     

         The prosecuting attorney presents one-by-one the formal charges to the Grand Jury and also calls the witnesses.  As an experienced public official, the prosecuting attorney is your legal advisor.

     

         If the prosecutor and Grand Jury develop differences of opinion, take the issue to the judge who presides over that Grand Jury for final ruling.

     

    SECRECY

     

         Secrecy is of the utmost importance.  Not only is any action taken on an indictment a private matter, but the fact the question was considered, or that certain witnesses were called, are also private.

     

         The pledge of secrecy is permanent.  Even among your family, friends, or fellow workers, the happenings within the Grand Jury Room are secret, not to be divulged.  Sometimes, after a full hearing, the Court orders a disclosure to promote justice.  But this is not the job of an individual juror.

     

    PROTECTING GRAND JURORS

     

         You are protected by the very secrecy of your investigations and the complete legal immunity given for your official acts.  Immunity includes anything you say during jury deliberations and any vote you cast.  One exception to immunity is if a juror gives perjured testimony about a crime while under oath to the Grand Jury.  Since you are given complete protection, Grand Jurors must demonstrate integrity and high character.

     

    PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

     

         Try to understand what is being said; someone’s freedom may depend upon it.

     

         Be courteous to witness and jurors.

     

         Hold any questions until the prosecutor has completed a witness’ testimony.  The question usually will be answered.

     

         Listen to opinions of fellow jurors, but form your own conclusions.

     

         Be completely fair.  The secrecy of the proceedings will allow no one to second guess your determination.

     

         Express your views.  You may have an idea no one else will suggest.

     

         Convince without being dictatorial.

     

         A reckless Grand Jury is as harmful as a weak one.

     

         Your regular and timely attendance is important.

     

         When considering any special investigation, work out details with the judge or prosecutor.  The Grand Jury can investigate any crime committed within the county.  However, an inquiry must be crime-related.  It must be directed by honest and conscientious motives to decide if a person should be charged with a specific crime.  You can require the Clerk of Court to issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear and testify.  You are not detectives or prosecutors authorized to make private investigations.  The Court can give you further instructions.

     

        The foreperson is notified as to the time deliberations are to start and instructed about Grand Jury duties.  It is your duty to confer with each other and to consider the viewpoints offered by all members.  You may express yourselves without interruption.

     

         When discussion has been completed, the foreperson polls the members, announces the results, and reports the specific charge to the prosecutor.

     

         Grand Jury membership is a high honor -- only a few citizens are chosen.  This means responsible participation by all jurors in performing their jury duty.

     

     

    Judge Eugene A. Lucci            (440) 350-2100      January term

    Judge Richard L. Collins Jr.     (440) 350-2720      April term

    Judge Vincent A. Culotta          (440) 350-2736      July term

    Judge Joe Gibson                     (440) 350-2662      October term