A grand jury in Ohio plays an important investigative role in felony cases commenced in Franklin County and in other counties throughout the state. Grand jurors hear evidence presented to them by a prosecutor, but their role is not to decide the guilt or innocence of the accused. Instead, grand jurors determine if there is probable cause to file a felony criminal charge against someone.
Trial juries, on the other hand, must decide whether the evidence presented by prosecutors proved the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. If it did, then the jurors would hand down a verdict of guilty which is the equivalent of a criminal conviction.
If a trial jury is not convinced of the guilt of the accused, then it will usually return from its deliberations with a not guilty verdict, that is the equivalent of a dismissal of the charges. In a similar sense, after grand jurors hear all of the evidence presented by prosecutors, the panel may vote to dismiss the charges, indict the accused which mean he or she will have to go to trial or it may recommend a misdemeanor criminal charge instead of the felony charge originally sought by prosecutors.
Unlike trial jurors who sit quietly and listen to witnesses testify at a trial, grand jurors may ask questions of witnesses or of the prosecutors. There is cross examination of witnesses in grand jury proceedings because the only attorney allowed in the room is the prosecutor representing the people.
The rules of evidence are different in grand jury proceedings than they are at the trial of a criminal charge. For example, hearsay evidence, in which a person testifies about someone else told him or her, is not permitted at a trial, but it is permissible in a grand jury.
Someone who is under investigation by a grand jury should speak with an attorney in order to obtain legal advice about what, if anything, to do. This post is just an overview of a complex area of the law that could have long-term consequences for a person called to testify or who might want voluntarily testify before a grand jury. Under such circumstances, consult a criminal defense attorney for legal advice.