The process through which criminal charges are filed against a defendant is governed by rules and procedures that ensure efficiency and protect the defendant’s constitutional rights. For felony charges in Texas, this process involves a grand jury indictment.
The Grand Jury Indictment Process
Unlike misdemeanor charges, which are brought on by an “information” and complaint, felony charges must be brought on by a grand jury indictment, meaning the charge(s) must be brought before a grand jury of 12 jurors, who then submit a vote on the charges.
The prosecutor—the attorney for the State—is tasked with persuading the jury that probable cause is established. He or she will typically do this by explaining the law that pertains to the offense to the jurors. The jury can then obtain and review the evidence and even question witnesses if it feels it is necessary to come to a vote. The prosecutor must persuade nine out of the 12 jurors. If at least nine votes for the indictment, the prosecutor can continue with filing the charges, which is called a “true bill.” Unless nine jurors are persuaded, the prosecutor cannot go through with the charges, which is called a “no bill.” The indictment itself is a statement written by the jury that accuses the alleged offender of the crime.
The grand jury is just one step in the criminal prosecution process. These proceedings are a little less formal than criminal trial proceedings in that they are closed to the public, confidential, and exclude the defendant. But, similar to a jury trial, the proceedings and testimony are recorded for the court’s record, and the prosecutor may use information gained in the proceedings for any future criminal trial for the offense in question. The prosecutor must abide by numerous rules and procedures during the grand jury proceedings. But he or she can also disagree with the jury’s decision or its interpretation of the facts and potentially attempt the grand jury indictment process again.