A grand jury packet or presentation is sometimes the first line of defense after a felony arrest.
All felony charges are presented to a grand jury before they can become a “felony case.” Of the various roles fulfilled by the grand jury, there is probably none more important than filtering bad cases from our courts. Using the standard of “probable cause” a prosecutor presents an abbreviated case to twelve grand jurors who return either a “no bill” (no probable cause) or a “true bill” (probable cause).
In most cases, the grand jury process is top secret. Secrecy enhances the process by allowing the grand jury to make unpopular but appropriate decisions. The secrecy of the process also allows the district attorney to “dump” cases they don’t want to prosecute or lack merit. Even when the prosecutor thinks a case should be filed, many district attorney offices will allow a defense presentation, sometimes referred to as a “grand jury packet.”
A lot can be accomplished with a grand jury packet. Probable cause is a very low standard of proof, but in cases where very little evidence exists, the deficiencies should be brought to the attention of the grand jury. Short of convincing the grand jury to return a “no bill,” the grand jury could return an indictment on a different or lesser charge. Sometimes the facts of the case call for this sort of result but sometimes the grand jury’s decision is a purely empathetic one.
Not all cases call for a grand jury packet. There are certain costs involved in pursuing this option—namely exposing a defense that the prosecutor is not otherwise entitled to know. Whether a grand jury packet is a risk worth taking involves careful consideration with an attorney experienced in criminal law.