Former President Donald Trump has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury following an investigation into his business practices. Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, and author of “Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It,” explains the mechanics of grand juries and indictments. A grand jury decides to charge a case, whereas a trial jury determines guilt or innocence. The standard of proof in a grand jury is lower, and probable cause is enough to bring charges.
The grand jury is an almost entirely one-sided process, allowing only grand jurors, prosecutors, witnesses, and a court reporter inside. Defense lawyers are not present, and there is no cross-examination of the prosecution’s evidence. Typically, a prosecutor will seek an indictment from a grand jury and nearly always get it.
An indictment is a document that formally charges a defendant with specific crimes. There are three grand juries regarding Trump that are top of mind. The first is for election meddling in Georgia, the second at the federal level for declassified documents, and the third is with the Manhattan DA. Although there are minor variations between city, county, and federal grand juries, the basics remain the same.
In New York State, a defendant does have a limited right to receive notification and a chance to testify or present defense evidence. Trump attempted to testify through Robert Costello, but this is not possible at the federal level where defendants have no right to testify or present evidence. Honig states that the fundamentals of grand juries and indictments remain the same, with only slight variations in the process depending on jurisdiction.