(WTVM) - In the wake of Monday's grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO, we asked Sheriff Mike Jolley of Harris County about how grand juries operate and in what ways they are different from regular trial juries.
The rules differ from state to state, but the Harris County Sheriff educated us about how it works in Georgia.
"It places the initial stages of our system in the hands of our citizens," Jolley said. "It helps them understand what goes on in their community and what law enforcement focuses on and what the D.A.'s office focuses on for their prosecution. It gives them firsthand knowledge of an investigation."
The subject can be confusing, and without a uniform policy across the country, the laws in Missouri don't exactly match up with those in Georgia.
When a prosecutor brings evidence to a grand jury, he or she is asking them to decide- not guilt or innocence -but simply, could there be a case against an individual.
Anybody can be on a grand jury. The people are chosen at random, just like for a trial, except they don't get interrogated by lawyers who are trying to eliminate the ones they don't want. Whoever is in the initial selection is who they stay with.
"Anywhere between 16 to 23 people are going to be inside the grand jury room. Out of that number, 12 people have to vote," Jolley said.
A minimum of 16 need to be present, but whatever twelve agree on is what passes.
They're voting to decide whether or not the case will go to trial based on the prosecutor's evidence alone. There's no defense, no arguments, and no cross-examination, just raw facts and witness statements in the purest form.
In Georgia, all major felonies and officer-involved shootings go to grand juries before a trial no matter what. Grand juries are picked four times a year and they usually listen to a bunch of different cases in one sitting.
Some states substitute a preliminary hearing, where a judge makes the call on whether a case proceeds to trial without anyone else's input. Some states allow the prosecutor to have their choice between a grand jury or preliminary.