How grand jury works

By Dean Wright -

GALLIPOLIS — With 2017 coming to an end, Gallia Prosecutor Jason Holdren shared his thoughts on how Gallia’s Grand Jury indicts its felony cases in an attempt to educate the public on what can sometimes be a lengthy process.

According to Holdren, in Ohio, once a criminal complaint is filed in Gallipolis Municipal Court then the “speedy trial time” begins to run.

“I have 270 days to bring someone to trial once they’ve been charged,” said Holdren. “But if they’re in jail, each day counts as three days. So I have 90 days, if they’re incarcerated.”

Holdren said that is significant because if drugs are found during a search warrant or traffic stop, his office may wait months for a forensic crime lab to process evidence and alleged drugs due to backlogs.

According to the prosecutor, in 2007 Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation handled around 14,000 drug tests to confirm whether an item found was truly a drug. He said this year, he believes that number has nearly doubled.

Defendants may waive their right to a speedy trial based on defense counsel advice and are also entitled to a preliminary hearing regarding a felony complaint with municipal court to determine whether there is probable cause of an offense to continue court proceedings. A bond can then be set and the defendant “bound over” to common pleas (otherwise known as felony court). Municipal court is often regarded as a misdemeanor and traffic court.

A case can potentially start with grand jury, if the county prosecutor chooses, and pass the municipal court complaint phase. An indictment can be issued and formal charges recognized for court proceedings to begin if the grand jury finds probable cause in a case. No individual in Ohio will stand trial of a felony charge unless the charge comes from a grand jury. Should that be the case, a deputy can serve a warrant or summons for the accused to appear in court.

Grand juries are typically secret with no judge present. The prosecutor leads the proceeding. Grand juries are chosen from individuals who are county-resident licensed drivers or registered voters. In Gallia, the same jurors will serve potentially four months before a new group will be selected. The grand jury normally meets once a month unless special circumstances are warranted. Witnesses and evidence are presented before the jury and jurors vote to determine whether to indict a potential law offender. The indictment is considered the formal charge in a court case. If a case is presented before grand jury and indicted, the accused will then be brought before court to issue a plea of not guilty, guilty or no contest to the indictment.

Whether a case goes to municipal court and then grand jury or grand jury first can be a matter of timing as an arrested individual is entitled to a court appearance within a reasonable amount of time. Oftentimes, a person arrested will have a court appearance within just a few days.

Sometimes individuals are released from custody based upon whether prosecution thinks it can move forward with a case or can indict later based upon evidence brought forth later in an investigation. A jurisdiction’s statute of limitations sets out a maximum time that parties can begin a legal proceeding from the date of a reported offense. A statute can differ between jurisdictions.

“The grand jury is the gatekeeper for cases that are going to proceed onto common pleas court,” said Holdren. “I may have a case I bring forth that I think may be criminal but may be hard to decide. So we bring it to the grand jury to make that determination.”

Holdren said the secretive nature of a grand jury can be used to prevent an individual from running from law enforcement as the person does not know they are being charged. It can also potentially save an individual’s reputation from harm if the jury does not find enough evidence to indict.

Note: Ohio Valley Publishing always encourages readers to seek professional legal counsel regarding matters of law.

Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.

By Dean Wright