Before Grand Jury Testimony
Florida prosecutors have wide autonomy to charge a suspect with a crime – unless they are suspected of first degree murder or another capital crime. Then, the charge must be presented to a grand jury, which then will either vote to indict the person, or they will vote “no true bill,” meaning that there is not enough evidence to indict. In order to decide whether there is enough evidence to indict, very often witnesses will be called to testify before the grand jury, but given the differences between these and normal jury trials, it can be very confusing for those called to testify. Consulting an attorney beforehand can be a great help.
If you are called before a grand jury, you should be aware that generally, you are either a witness or a target – that is, the prosecutor either believes you have information that may help the grand jury decide whether or not to indict, or they believe you may be involved in the crime in question. However, your rights are far more limited in a grand jury room than they are as a witness in a standard civil or criminal trial – for example, Miranda rights are not required, but anything you say can still be used against you in court.
In addition, you are able to have your attorney present, but only to “advise and consult” as opposed to having them address the grand jury or ask questions – this does not give you the right to counsel that you would normally have if you are testifying on the stand. If you incriminate yourself, you would then face your own possible grand jury indictment at a later date, but since a grand jury is not actually taking someone’s freedom away, common law assigned very little rights to witnesses.
Immunity & Other Questions
One of the best reasons to consult an attorney before testifying in front of a grand jury is to know how to handle the question of immunity. Very often, a prosecutor will grant immunity to a witness that they believe may be partially complicit in a crime, so they can then compel that witness to testify against the ‘bigger fish.’ There are two different types – use immunity and transactional immunity – but Florida law only recognizes use immunity. Use immunity holds that the testimony itself cannot be used against the witness, but they still may be charged with a crime related to the testimony they are giving. (Transactional immunity is when a witness cannot be charged with any crime related to the testimony.)
It can be a tough decision as to whether or not to accept an immunity deal, especially since it may not actually shield you from prosecution. Grand jury proceedings are secret, with all present being bound to secrecy, but prosecutors are permitted to use any testimony they receive in any legally appropriate way. If that means bringing charges against you (absent a grant of use immunity), it will occur.
Call A West Palm Beach Grand Jury Attorney
Being called to appear before a grand jury can be very intimidating; however, you do have rights and you are able to have an attorney with you to ensure that those rights are protected. The West Palm Beach grand jury proceeding attorneys at the firm of Perlet, Shiner, Melchiorre & Walsh, P.A. have experience helping witnesses navigate these proceedings, and are ready to try and assist you. Contact us today to speak to an attorney.