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There are many special legal and procedural rules for felony cases and not enough room to explain them all here. One basic procedure I will discuss, however, is the grand jury. A grand jury is a group of seven jurors (occasionally less) that hold a secret proceeding where they review the evidence in the case that is presented by the District Attorney. When a person is charged with a felony, the case is usually presented to a grand jury either before or after the first arraignment. The grand jury does not decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The role of the grand jury is to determine whether there is enough evidence in the case to even proceed with the charges (if so, the grand jury issues what is called an "indictment"). Historically, the grand jury was used as a safeguard to prevent prosecutors from filing felony charges that were frivolous or politically-motivated. Unfortunately, today the grand jury is more of just a routine step in the process than an actual procedural safeguard. It is very unusual for a grand jury to not issue an indictment on a case that the District Attorney has presented. Also, because the grand jury is sworn to secrecy and its members are not allowed to discuss the cases or proceedings, there are few ways to be sure that the prosecutors are presenting the evidence fairly.
When the grand jury meets before the defendant's arraignment, they usually issue what is called a "secret indictment." A secret indictment remains in a hidden court file and does not become a public record until the defendant is arrested or otherwise appears in court on the charge(s). When a grand jury issues a secret indictment, they also usually issue an arrest warrant for the defendant. Unfortunately, this process usually means that the defendant is not aware of the charge(s) until it's too late and often prevents them from turning themselves in or voluntarily appearing in court on the charge. An experienced criminal defense attorney can sometimes create an open line of communication with the District Attorney and may be able to prevent the defendant from being arrested in this manner by making arrangements for the defendant to turn themselves into the police or voluntarily appear in court.
If you have been charged or arrested for a felony, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your case. The sooner you get an attorney on your side, the more that attorney can do to help you with your case.
. Kyron Horman