News recently broke that Special Counsel Robert Muller has reportedly empaneled a grand jury. The reports were quickly confirmed by anonymous sources, but for many people, it leads them to a simple question: what exactly is a grand jury?

A grand jury, to start, is composed of 16 to 23 citizens. They receive normal requests for jury duty, but these jurors do not head to an open courtroom, or end up hearing a complete case. In Washington D.C., where Mr. Muller has reportedly started to present his case to a grand jury, jurors report to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Judiciary Square. Once all the jurors are vetted and seated, the prosecutor begins to present evidence and witnesses to the jury. The goal is to determine whether or not there is probable cause to investigate an alleged crime. During the proceedings, jurors can ask questions of the witnesses, and request further investigation. These proceedings take place in a private setting. That is to say, defense attorneys or any possible defendants do not see the prosecutor’s presentation.

At the end of the presentation, the jury votes on if there is probable cause to investigate the alleged crime, and if they find that probable cause exists, a criminal indictment is issued. On rare occasions, the grand jury also delivers a report that supplements their findings.

Being indicted is not the same as being found guilty by a regular jury. It only marks the start of a criminal prosecution, and is a certification that a jury has found that there is reason for the matter to go to trial.

This article was prepared by Thomas Toman, National Security Investigations Intern.

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