The grand jury system is one that is often confusing for Florida criminal defendants. It is not as public as a trial, and the defense doesn’t have the same opportunity to present its case as it would in an actual trial.
As noted by The Florida Bar, the grand jury system was formed as a kind of shield from unjust prosecution by determining whether there is sufficient evidence to indict the defendant and also to serve as an investigating body with subpoena power. They will have between 15 and 21 people, and at least 12 need to concur in order to obtain an indictment. An indictment is the initiation of the criminal prosecution, but it’s not required in all cases. In Florida, the involvement of a grand jury is only required when a person is being tried for a capital offense (i.e., one that could result in a death penalty sentence), but they are also sometimes used in cases that are high-profile or controversial. If your case is going before a grand jury, you be in contact with the best criminal defense attorney you can find.
The process isn’t perfect, as recent events out of Tallahassee show, and having an experienced legal advocate on your side is imperative. As The Tallahassee Democrat reported, defense attorneys were highly critical of the procedures (or rather, the apparent lack thereof) when 80 Florida State students were packed into a third floor waiting room over the course of two days and more than 20 hours total while waiting for the possibility that they may be called to testify before the grand jury.
Most of the students were reportedly members and prospective members of a fraternity. Others were in attendance at a party in November when one of the fraternity pledges, 20, died of alcohol poisoning. While no students had been formally charged, the grand jury is investigating prosecutors’ findings of possible charges related to suspected hazing. The actual grand jury proceedings took place behind closed doors, and not all members who were subpoenaed were called to testify. Many students had hired attorneys, who were also mulling about in the waiting room.
Defense lawyers noted that the prosecutor had authority to issue investigative subpoenas without grand jury involvement, but instead chose to have the grand jury handle it. Grand jurors reportedly told the newspaper that they decided to review the case because so many in the fraternity refused to talk to police, calling such actions “obstructionism” and “conspiracy.” Language like that puts our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers on high-alert because what these individuals were doing, in effect, was exercising their right against self-incrimination. To have such action called “obstructionist” is alarming.
What’s also troubling is a recent alteration to the FSU student code of conduct, which in part requires students to participate in conduct proceedings and face suspension for failure to do so. Students in this situation should not simply fold without seeking the advice of an attorney because whatever is gleaned in those student code of conduct proceedings could potentially be used against them by prosecutors pursuing a criminal action.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Defense attorneys decry grand jury procedure, recommendations, Dec. 21, 2017, By Karl Etters, Tallahassee Democrat
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Driver Gets 12 Years Prison for Fatal Bicycle Accident in South Florida, Dec. 4, 2017, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Blog