Pennsylvania, for the most part, does not utilize the Grand Jury System.

Alfonso Gambone
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A Philadelphia criminal defense attorney representing accused persons throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


An Ohio Grand Jury has declined to indict current Oakland Raider and Former Ohio State football player Gareon Conley on a rape allegation.  Unlike Ohio, Pennsylvania, for the most part, does not utilize the Grand Jury System. If Mr. Conley had faced similar allegation in the Commonwealth, he would have likely faced a preliminary hearing where his criminal defense lawyer would have had the opportunity to cross exam most likely the alleged victim in this case.  Under the Grand Jury system, however, which Ohio, like New Jersey uses, the prosecution presents the allegation to a group of citizens who decide if the person should be indicted. 

The Grand Jury versus the Preliminary Hearing – The Difference


In Ohio, the grand jury for felony offenses is composed of 9 citizens and at least 7 must vote for an indictment.  Remember that a grand jury, unlike a preliminary hearing, the members hear only the prosecution’s version of what happened on the day in question.  At a preliminary hearing, the defense lawyer has an opportunity to cross exam the prosecution’s witness and make an argument as to why the assistant district attorney has failed to present a prima facie case.  At a preliminary hearing, like a grand jury, the prosecution doesn’t have to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt but just a crime was a committed and that the accused was the person who likely committed it.  While a preliminary hearing occurs before a judge in a courtroom, there is no judge at grand jury ruling on the admissibility of evidence or listening to argument from the attorneys.  This is major disadvantage for the defense! 


At the end of grand jury proceeding there is either a bill of indictment issued or a “no bill” which is what occurred in the Conley case.  This basically means that at least 7 of the 9 Ohio citizens who heard this case believed that there wasn’t sufficient evidence of crime.  At a preliminary hearing, a judge would have to find that the assistant district attorney didn’t meet the prima facie burden of proof which is basically the same level of proof as the Grand Jury proceeding. 


What is better for the defense?


The grand jury is composed of persons who aren’t trained in the law and who haven’t been screened for any bias.  A prosecutor may be able to easily persuade these individuals as opposed to a judge who is trained in legal principles and has a much better understanding of the elements of crimes.  Further, the defense gets an opportunity to show weakness in the prosecution’s case at preliminary hearing and collect more information about it.  Read my article on 3 things that your lawyer should be doing at a preliminary hearing and watch my video on this topic for more information. 


The preliminary hearing is much more modern and preferred method from a defense standpoint.  Pennsylvania, only uses indicting grand jury on a limited basis where there is evidence of witness intimidation.  If you’ve recently received a notice to appear before a grand jury, remember that you still have rights.  While a defense counsel doesn’t have an absolute right to be in grand jury hearing room, judges will more than likely allow it.   For more information, please visit my free download section and keep reading this blog.  

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