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Can a Private Citizen Force a Grand Jury to Indict Me?

A grand jury is a group of 23 citizens who are asked to consider and issue indictments–i.e., formal accusations of criminal wrongdoing against an individual. Grand juries are quite different from trial (or petit) juries. The grand jury typically only hears evidence presented by the prosecution. As the accused, you do not have the right to hear the prosecution’s presentation to the grand jury or cross-examine its witnesses. You do have the right to testify before the grand jury if you wish, but beyond that it is basically the prosecutor’s show.

The reason for this is that the grand jury does not decide your guilt or innocence. To issue an indictment, the grand jury need only find that there is “probable cause” that suggests you committed a crime. Before the trial jury, the prosecution must prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a much higher standard of proof. Of course, at trial you are allowed to hear and cross-examine all of the state’s evidence, as well as present any witnesses or evidence in your own defense.

Court of Special Appeals: Citizens Have the Right to Forward Information to a Grand Jury, Not Act as Prosecutor

Grand juries are also used to conduct broader investigations into possible criminal activity. In some cases, Maryland law authorizes a grand jury to investigate matters that the State’s Attorney’s office itself has declined to prosecute for whatever reason. So could a private citizen–say the alleged victim of a crime–actually request a grand jury investigation over the objections of the State’s Attorney?

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently addressed this issue. In Holloman v. Mosby, the mother of a young man who was shot and killed by a Baltimore City police officer sought to present her own case for criminal wrongdoing to a grand jury after the State’s Attorney declined to bring any charges. The mother cited a state law that authorizes a Baltimore City grand jury to “carry out an investigation as a judge of the circuit court directs.”

But the Court of Special Appeals held this law “does not create a private right of action” by which a private citizen “can compel a circuit court judge to direct the grand jury to conduct an investigation.” However, the mother did have a “common law” right to “forward information to the grand jury” for its consideration. In other words, a private citizen can “ask the grand jury to initiate an investigation and to prepare the materials and information for submission to the grand jury in support of that request.”

The Court made it clear, however, when the State’s Attorney declines to present a case to the grand jury, as occurred here, a private citizen cannot step in and act as the prosecutor. For example, a private citizen cannot present arguments to the grand jury to question witnesses before it. The private citizen’s role is strictly limited to compiling and forwarding information that might be useful to the grand jury should it choose to investigate.

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This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.