In our fourth blog about the Fifth Amendment, we cover your right to trial by grand jury. If you’re curious about what else the fifth amendment says, be sure to check out our posts on pleading the fifth, double jeopardy, and due process. As we’ve discussed before, the fifth amendment of the US Constitution in general covers several legal rights. For today, we’ll answer what your right to trial by grand jury grants you, and in what cases the government does not grant you that right.
Trial by Grand Jury Basics
First, the part of the fifth amendment that concerns us today is, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.” So, what’s the difference between a grand jury and a trial jury? To put it simply, a grand jury decides whether charges should be brought against a suspect. Meanwhile, a trial jury renders a verdict at a criminal trial. So, a grand jury simply decides if there’s enough evidence against a person to warrant a trial. But the trial jury is the group that observes the trial itself and decides if a person is guilty or innocent.
Second, now that we know some basics, what does this right grant you? This right means that the government isn’t allowed to just accuse you of murder, or any other serious crime, and conduct a trial. In other words, the government can’t accuse you of a crime and conduct a trial just because they don’t like you. With the right to trial by grand jury, you avoid a criminal trial if not enough evidence exists.
Exceptions to Trial by Grand Jury
Third, the fifth amendment also states, “…except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger.” This relates to the military. When you join the military, you voluntarily revoke some of your rights for a time. The right to trial by grand jury is one of them. If you commit a crime while in active service, you face a court-martial instead. In that case, the particular branch decides whether or not there’s enough evidence to warrant a trial.
You can read more about the history here.