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A primer on juries

Melissa Topey • Jul 25, 2014 at 10:03 PM


It's a civil obligation of every voter, but there's still mystery surrounding the power of a jury, a grand jury or even a special grand jury.

Potential jurors are called to service by way of the voter registrations in each Ohio county. Most who get a summons are likely being called to serve on a petit jury, otherwise known as a trial jury.

They will listen to evidence and decide an outcome of a single case. They serve for as long as that case is heard.

In a criminal case involving a felony the law requires 12 jurors to decide if there is evidence to prove someone is guilty of a crime, said Ric Simmons, a law professor at The Ohio State University.

A case involving a misdemeanor requires six jurors, he said.

Then there is a grand jury, such as the recent Sandusky County grand jury that heard the case of Craig Burdine.

A grand jury is made up of nine jurors and five alternates, Simmons said.

The grand jury members will sit for either a three- or four-month period. In Sandusky County they sit for four months.

During that time grand jurors hear many cases in rapid fire session. They determine only whether someone should be indicted or charged with a crime, Simmons said. They make this decision based on evidence presented to them from a prosecutor, and any witnesses the prosecutors choose to call. It is the prosecutor who also provides grand jurors information on which criminal charges might apply given the evidence. 

The person whose case is before a grand jury often is not called to testify.

A grand jury, most often the same people, can become an investigative grand jury. That means they can take weeks or months to hear a case. Grand jurors can use subpoena powers to build a case and decide whether there is enough cause to charge someone.

In Ohio grand juries are to operate in secret, meaning no one is to know who the grand jury members are. Witness names also are not revealed beforehand.

Neither the grand jury nor the attorney general prosecutor are to discuss anyone's testimony or what they think of the case.

Witnesses can talk about their testimony afterwards, Simmons said.

It is unfortunate but more often then not witnesses are called to testify at a general time on a certain day, leading to witnesses being corralled together.

There is no law to prevent a witness from talking about the case beforehand, even though a prosecutor would not want them to and would advise witnesses against it, Simmons said. In most cases there is no one monitoring the waiting witnesses, he said.

The prosecutor runs the show, choosing juror members and who he will call to testify.

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