The Texas grand jury process is not meant to be transparent. The Texas Code of Criminal Conduct makes it clear that only prosecutors, court staff, and witnesses who are under examination may be in the presence of the grand jury. The rationale behind this process is for the grand jury to be presented evidence that the state or federal government feels necessary to convince the grand jury that probable cause exists to charge the suspect with a criminal offense.
The use of the grand jury is limited in Texas to the initiation of felony-level offenses. No matter the severity of the felony, Texas law requires that the evidence to support the charge must be heard by a grand jury before a formal indictment can be issued against a suspect.
What Crimes Are Considered Felonies?
Texas bases its felony charges on the maximum amount of incarceration a suspect could serve if they are convicted of the offense. In Texas, there are five different levels of felony charges that prosecutors can bring before a grand jury to hear:
Capital Felony: Maximum penalty of life in prison without parole or death;
First-Degree Felony: Maximum penalty of either life in prison or at least 99 years with a mandatory minimum to serve at least five years;
Second-Degree Felony: Maximum to serve 20 years;
Third-Degree Felony: Maximum to serve 10 years; and
State Jail Felony: Maximum to serve two years.
Although the grand jury only hears felony cases in Texas, this does not preclude them from reviewing the evidence and determining that only a misdemeanor offense occurred. This reduction in charge is often the result of a poor presentation of the evidence by the prosecution. If the grand jury amends the charge, this could be a pivotal indication to the defense team that the case against the suspect may have significant evidentiary issues. If argued persuasively, the gaps in the evidence can cast serious doubt as to the viability of a conviction before a jury.
Unfortunately, Texas law continues to shield the grand jury from the general public and those facing the criminal charges ruled on by the grand jury. Although reform has been discussed at length, the fact remains that it is challenging to obtain the details of the grand jury proceeding without significant pre-trial litigation.
Arguing For A Grand Jury Transcript To Be Released
There are ways to request that the court order the release of grand jury transcripts. The case law supporting this request is narrow and requires that the defendant show a “particularized need” for the transcript, which outweighs the need for secrecy of grand jury proceedings.
If successful, the transcript can assist in preparing for the cross-examination of witnesses, and a further understanding of the facts that prosecutors allege show the suspect’s guilt.
Regardless of the likelihood of success, the litigation process alone can be a useful exercise in testing the evidence of the case, as it may reveal weaknesses in the case that would have not otherwise been discovered.
Understanding And Preparing For The Grand Jury With The Most Experienced Legal Team Available
Law enforcement is trained to work in the shadows, securing evidence in the least intrusive manner possible to keep the suspect in the dark on the likelihood of criminal charges being brought. If you feel that you may be the subject of a criminal investigation, you must enlist the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
With over 30 years of experience, the attorneys at Vinas & Graham are ready to investigate your suspicions to ensure that you have the guidance you need throughout the criminal justice process, regardless of whether a Texas grand jury hears it or not. To start the representation process, contact Vinas and Graham, or visit the Vinas & Graham Facebook page.