Grand Jury Investigation and Indictment

Document Type


Publication Date



Civil Liberties in the United States


Grand juries, comprising sixteen to twenty-three citizens serving for extended periods of time, wield tremendous investigative power and determine whether a criminal accusation called an ‘‘indictment’’ is warranted because there exists probable cause to believe that an individual has engaged in criminal conduct. The grand jury, with its roots in ancient civilizations, came to the American colonies with the English common law. The right to grand jury indictment in serious federal criminal prosecutions later was enshrined in the Bill of Rights, in the Fifth Amendment. Although the Supreme Court declared in the 1884 case of Hurtado v. California, 110 U.S. 516 (1884), that the Constitution does not require states to use grand jury indictment to institute criminal proceedings, a number of states make grand jury indictment mandatory for serious crimes.