Grand Juries and Indictments in Texas
All felony cases in Texas need to be charged by an indictment from a grand jury unless a defendant waives his or her right to be indicted (possibly as the result of a plea deal). Grand juries do not determine a person’s guilt or issue punishments, but instead, decide whether there is enough evidence to merit criminal charges.
There are some advantages to the grand jury process for alleged offenders, including the ability to testify in secret without fear of the effects any testimony might have on a person’s reputation should the grand jury decide not to indict. However, people who believe they are targets of grand jury investigations should immediately seek legal representation in order to ensure that they do not inadvertently disclose information in their testimony that results in an indictment.
Houston Lawyer for Grand Jury Appearances
If you have received a subpoena to appear before a grand jury in Texas, do not assume that you are not the target of an investigation—or could not end up becoming the target. Matt Horak has more than a decade of experience providing legal defense for people all over the greater Houston area.
Horak Law helps clients who have received grand jury indictments or have been subpoenaed to appear before grand juries, including residents of Sugar Land, The Woodlands, Galveston, Conroe, Pearland, Richmond-Rosenberg, Spring, Missouri City, Pasadena, and League City. Our firm can discuss your situation with you when you call us at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 today to schedule a free, confidential consultation.
Harris County Grand Juries and Indictments Information Center
- Who can serve as a grand juror?
- What is the actual process of a grand jury?
- How do the actual proceedings work?
- What can an attorney do for somebody who has been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury?
Chapter 19 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure lays out the ways that grand jury commissioners and grand jurors are selected. Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 19.01, the district judge appoints between three and five people to perform the duties of jury commissioners. The commissioners need to:
- Be intelligent citizens of the county and able to read and write English
- Be qualified jurors in the county
- Have no suit in said court which requires intervention of a jury
- Be residents of different portions of the county
- The same person shall not act as jury commissioner more than once in any 12-month period
The district judge can direct that 20 to 125 prospective grand jurors be selected and summoned, and a person needs to meet the following qualifications in order to serve as a grand juror:
- Must be a citizen of the state and county in which the person is to serve
- Must be qualified to vote in said county
- Must be of sound mind and good moral character
- Must be able to read and write
- Must not have been convicted of misdemeanor theft or a felony
- Must not be under indictment or other legal accusation for misdemeanor theft or a felony
- Must not be related within the third degree of consanguinity or second degree of affinity to any person selected to serve or serving on the same grand jury
- Must not have served as grand juror or jury commissioner in the year before the date on which the term of court for which the person has been selected as grand juror begins
- Must not be a complainant in any matter to be heard by the grand jury during the term of court for which the person has been selected as a grand juror
Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 19.26, a court impanels the grand jury when 14 qualified jurors are found to be present. However, the grand jury is composed of not more than twelve qualified jurors while not more than two people are qualified and impaneled as alternates to serve on disqualification or unavailability of a juror during the term of the grand jury.
After a grand jury hears all of the prosecutor's evidence, the jurors vote on the charges contained in the indictment presented to them by the prosecutor. The grand jury can then vote how they want to return the indictment:
- True Bill — If the grand jury votes to charge the alleged offender with the alleged crimes, this is known as returning a true bill and it initiates a criminal case against all people who have been named as defendants in the indictment.
- No Bill — If an insufficient number of grand jurors vote to charge the alleged offender with the alleged crimes, then this known as returning a no bill or as "returning a bill of ignoramus” and there is no criminal case.
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 19.40 states that nine members are the necessary quorum for the purpose of discharging any duty of the grand jury. In other words, any grand jury vote that does get nine grand jurors to support a true bill results in a no bill.
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 20.02(a) clearly states that the proceedings of the grand jury shall be secret. Any person who discloses anything transpiring before the grand jury can be held liable for contempt of the court and may be fined up to $500 and/or sentenced to 30 days in prison.
Because of the highly secretive process, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 20.011 limits only the following persons to be present in a grand jury room while the grand jury is conducting proceedings:
- Grand jurors
- State’s attorney
- Witnesses while being examined or when necessary to assist the attorney representing the state in examining other witnesses or presenting evidence to the grand jury
- Interpreters, when necessary
- A stenographer or person operating an electronic recording device
- A person operating a video teleconferencing system
Additionally, the only people allowed in a grand jury room while the grand jury is deliberating are the grand jurors.
Any person testifying before a grand jury is prohibited from being accompanied by legal representation in the grand jury room. However, a lawyer is permitted to wait in an area outside the room, and people testifying as witnesses are allowed to leave the grand jury room as needed—especially if they feel the need to consult an attorney before answering a question.
Prior to testifying, there are multiple other ways in which a lawyer can lend invaluable assistance to a grand jury witness:
- Comply with Document Requests — A grand jury may request an extraordinary amount of documentation from a witness. An attorney can help you provide enough documents to comply with such a request while determining which documents may be protected by certain privileges.
- Determine Your Investigation Status — A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can help you determine whether you are only being subpoenaed as a witness or you could, in fact, be a specific target of the investigation.
- Prepare Your Testimony — Having legal counsel can help prepare you by going over the best ways to respond to the questions of a prosecutor. Additionally, an attorney can prepare a packet of evidence that may include affidavits questioning the reliability of evidence against you, military records, or other paperwork that portray you in a favorable light.
- Prosecution Immunity — Your testimony may be sought as part of an effort to obtain an indictment against another criminal, such as if you allegedly dealt controlled substances but there is another person who allegedly trafficked a much larger amount. A lawyer may be able to reach out to the prosecutor to strike a deal such that you will receive immunity and you will not be prosecuted for crimes relating to the testimony or cannot have your testimony used against you in any future prosecution.
- Present Information That Would Be Inadmissible at Jury Trial — An attorney may be able to help you provide the grand jury with favorable polygraph test results, character letters, or other documentation that otherwise is not allowed in jury trials. During grand jury testimony, a witness can be allowed to ask grand jurors to consider these types of information.
Find a Grand Jury Lawyer in Houston
If you have been issued a subpoena to testify before a grand jury, you cannot simply ignore it. Failure to appear after receiving a subpoena will result in a warrant being issued for your arrest, and you will be imprisoned until you agree to testify. Matt Horak will explore all of your options, including possibly pleading Fifth Amendment privilege, and he can help you determine the best way to proceed with your own grand jury testimony.
Horak Law assists clients in the Houston area with all types of criminal matters, and our firms serves communities in Galveston County, Harris County, Brazoria County, Waller County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, and Fort Bend County. Let our Texas criminal defense attorney review your case by calling our firm at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009 to take advantage of a free legal consultation.