| Grand Jury Handbook (PDF Format)
FOR GRAND JURORS
Serving in the Superior Court of the State
The purpose of this handbook is to inform grand jurors of
their function and to explain legal language and proceedings. When
in doubt as to how to proceed properly, grand jurors should seek
guidance from the attorney general or the court.
| IMPORTANCE OF SERVICE
The grand jury came with the colonists from England. Its origin
was more than eight centuries ago. The right to indictment by grand
jury is guaranteed as a fundamental right by the Constitutions of
the State of Delaware and of the United States of America.
The grand jury plays an important part in the administration of
criminal justice. The grand jury protects the people from possible
abuse of power. No person may be prosecuted for a serious crime
unless the State satisfies an independent body of citizens that
there is probable cause to do so.
The grand jury is both a shield and a sword of justice-a shield
to protect the innocent and a sword to prosecute the guilty. The
grand jury is an arm of the court answerable to no one except the
court for the proper performance of its important powers.
Grand jury service is a high duty of citizenship. Grand jurors put
into practice the principles of our great heritage of liberty under
law and help maintain local law and order. Their greatest reward
is the knowledge that they have discharged this duty faithfully,
honorably, and well.
| SELECTION OF JURORS
|State law requires that jurors
be selected at random from a fair cross section of the county in which
they live. Thus, everyone has an equal opportunity and obligation
The names of jurors are drawn at random from lists of registered voters
and other sources when necessary to assure that all groups in the
community have a chance to be represented. Those qualified persons
whose names have been drawn and who are not excused from service are
summoned to appear for duty as jurors. The persons summoned to serve
for a term or a case are a panel. The court selects members of the
panel to serve as grand jurors.
Since jury service is an obligation of citizenship, persons summoned
should request excuse only when necessary. Although jury service may
be inconvenient, those who serve generally find it to be a worthwhile
experience and feel justifiably proud to have performed this important
| OVERVIEW OF THE CRIMINAL
General, who is the chief law enforcement officer of the State,
prosecutes all criminal proceedings. The attorney
general heads the State Department of Justice and appoints a number
of lawyers as deputy attorneys general to assist in the performance
of the duties of the attorney general.
All criminal prosecutions are brought in the name of the State. The
person charged with a violation of law is the defendant. The charge
against the defendant may be brought in two ways: by indictment or
An indictment is a grand jury's formal written accusation charging
one or more identified persons with the commission of a criminal offense.
Each offense charged is stated in a separate count of the indictment.
The defendant will usually have been arrested by the police and held
by a committing magistrate for action by the grand jury. Because the
defendant will either have posted bail or be in custody in default
of bail awaiting grand jury action, it is important that the charge
be presented to the grand jury without unreasonable delay and that
the grand jury act promptly.
There is a constitutional right to indictment by grand jury for all
serious crimes or any charge commenced in Superior Court, unless a
defendant agrees to give up this right and consents to the filing
of an information. An information is a written charge against the
defendant filed by the attorney general rather than by a grand jury.
An arraignment is the defendant's entry of a plea of "guilty" or "not
guilty" to the charges in the indictment or information. No trial
is needed when the defendant admits to committing the crime by pleading
guilty. Upon entry of a plea of not guilty, the defendant must stand
An indictment or information is merely an accusation and is not evidence
or indication of guilt. At trial, the defendant is presumed innocent
and may not be found guilty unless the State meets its burden of proving
to the satisfaction of the petit jury that the defendant is guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt.
The petit jury decides whether the defendant
is guilty or not guilty as to each offense charged. If the judge so
instructs, the jury may find the defendant guilty of a less serious
offense than the one charged. If a defendant is convicted, sentencing
is the responsibility of the judge.
| GRAND AND PETIT JURY
|Juries that brought criminal
charges were originally composed of twenty-three persons and juries
that tried the charges were composed of twelve persons. Thus, the
former were called the grand, meaning large, and the latter were called
petit, meaning small.
Grand juries in New Castle County are now composed of fifteen persons.
Grand juries in Kent County and Sussex County are now composed of
ten persons. Although petit juries in
other jurisdictions vary in size, they are still composed of twelve
persons in Delaware, unless the parties to a case agree to a jury
Grand and petit juries have different
functions. The grand jury's function is to decide whether the evidence
presented by the State establishes probable cause to conclude that
a crime was committed and that the person charged should be put to
trial to determine guilt or innocence. Probable cause exists when
there is reasonable ground to believe that the person named has committed
the crime stated in the proposed indictment. If the grand jury is
satisfied that probable cause exists, it returns an indictment charging
If the defendant pleads not guilty, there will be a trial. At trial,
the defendant has the right to be present, to be represented by counsel,
to confront and cross-examine witnesses called by the State, and to
testify and call witnesses in defense. The petit jury decides whether
or not the evidence presented at trial proves guilt beyond a reasonable
doubt, and returns a verdict of guilty or not guilty.
| ACCUSING BODY
|Matters may be brought to
the grand jury's attention in three ways: by the attorney general, by the court, or by a member of the grand jury. In all cases, the grand jury must hear evidence before taking action.
The grand jury's work will normally be concerned with charges brought
to its attention by the attorney general. As to those incidents otherwise
brought to its attention, no bill of indictment will have been prepared
in advance by the attorney general. A formal written accusation of
crime brought on the grand jurors' own initiative based on facts known
by them or discovered by their investigation is a presentment. The
grand jury should consult with the attorney general or the court before
attempting to proceed on its own initiative. This is necessary because
the grand jury has no investigative staff and legal assistance would
The grand jury is not completely free to compel a trial of anyone
it chooses. The attorney general has charge of all criminal prosecutions.
Thus, the attorney general and the grand jury act as checks upon each
other. This assures that neither may arbitrarily wield the awesome
power to prosecute a person for a serious crime.
In connection with the grand jury's work as an accusing body, grand
jurors should bear in mind that they may seek to change the law through
the General Assembly, but must enforce the law as it exits. Thus,
even if a grand juror considers a law harsh or unwise, that should
not influence the grand juror's judgment in carrying out the duties
of the office.
| INVESTIGATING BODY
|The grand jury may make investigations
on its own initiative and report its findings to the court in a grand
jury report, or written statement, not charging any persons with the
commission of a crime. It is in this special field that the inherent
powers and responsibilities of grand juries are most apparent. But
these powers must be exercised very cautiously.
No grand jury should embark upon a special investigation without careful
consideration of its importance and value to the citizens of the county.
The grand jury may be required by the court or the attorney general
to undertake such an investigation, or a special investigation may
be undertaken as a result of information coming to the grand jury
from other sources. There are distinct limitations as to what a grand
jury may do in the course of such investigations and in its report
The grand jury should call on the attorney general and the court for
guidance and advice as to the propriety of any proposed investigation
or presentment before attempting to proceed on its own initiative.
The grand jury may visit and inspect institutions supported by public
funds. The visit may be made at any reasonable time and in any manner
that suits the convenience of the grand jury. After such inspection,
a written report should be made to the court as to the condition of
the institution and any recommendation for improvement.
| THE GRAND JUROR'S OATH
|Each grand jury must swear
or affirm to the following ancient grand juror's oath:
|"Do you, and each of
you, solemnly swear on the Holy Bible of Almighty God (or solemnly,
sincerely, and truly declare and affirm) that as members of the grand
jury of the State of Delaware, for ___________ County, you will diligently
inquire and true presentment make of all matters and things as shall be given you in charge, or otherwise
come to your knowledge, touching this present service, and do you
further swear (or affirm) that the counsel of the State, your fellows
and your own, you shall keep secret, and that you shall present no
person for envy, hatred or malice, nor shall you leave any person
unpresented because of fear, favor, affection, reward or the hope
of reward, and do you further swear (or affirm) that you shall present
all things truly as they come to your knowledge, according to the
best of your understanding, so help you God (or do you so affirm)?"
|This language may seem archaic
and somewhat lengthy and involved, but the oath is binding and sacred.
The oath describes in detail grand jurors' essential duties of diligence,
secrecy, impartiality, honesty, and discretion. If grand jurors follow
the oath to the letter, they will meet their full obligation as members
of the grand jury, and will perform their responsibilities in accordance
with the law.
| ORGANIZATION OF THE GRAND
|When grand jurors have been
sworn or affirmed, they become a part of the grand jury. The oath
is administered by a deputy clerk in the office of the Prothonotary,
who is the clerk of the court, in the presence of a judge and of the
other grand jurors.
The presiding judge will charge the grand jury on its duties. The
judge may instruct the grand jury formally in a courtroom or may do
so informally when the oath is administered to new grand jurors. The
attorney general may also give the grand jury advice and guidance.
The court will appoint one of the grand jurors to be the foreperson,
or presiding officer, of the grand jury. A deputy foreperson will
also be appointed to act as presiding officer in the foreperson's
absence. The foreperson or deputy foreperson will preside at all sessions
of the grand jury. The foreperson has the right and duty to maintain
order and see to the businesslike conduct of the grand jury. The foreperson
generally leads in the questioning of witnesses, but any juror may,
and should, freely ask questions as well.
Although not required by law, the practice has been for the foreperson
to designate a secretary. The secretary's main duty is to record the
number of jurors concurring in each indictment.
The foreperson may also designate a juror to serve as sergeant-at-arms,
having such duties as the foreperson may decide, such as reading the
indictment to the jury, advising the bailiff to summon or release
witnesses, and such other assistance to the grand jury as the foreperson
| QUORUM FOR TRANSACTING
|Twelve of the 15 members of
the grand jury in New Castle County and 7 of the 10 members of the
grand jury in Kent County and in Sussex County constitute a quorum
for the transaction of business. If fewer than this number are present,
even for a moment, the proceedings of the grand jury must stop. This
shows how important it is that each grand juror conscientiously attend
all meetings or notify the court promptly if unable to do so.
| EVIDENCE BEFORE THE GRAND
|The attorney general proposes
bills of indictment for consideration by the grand jury. Every bill
of indictment proposed by the attorney general must be acted upon
by the grand jury. In the usual case, a deputy attorney general will
not present the evidence of alleged violation of the law, but the
attorney general may participate in some cases. But neither the attorney
general nor any deputy or assistant or anyone other than grand jurors
may remain in the room while the grand jury deliberates and votes
on an indictment.
Much of the grand jury's time is spent hearing testimony by witnesses
and examining documentary or other evidence in order to determine
whether such evidence justifies an indictment. It is not necessary
that the grand jury hear all of the witnesses to find an indictment.
It may decide that probable cause to put the accused on trial has
been shown after hearing one or two witnesses. If that happens, there
is no reason to hear more witnesses. On the other hand, the grand
jury may not ignore a proposed indictment without hearing all of the
witnesses, because the last witness might be the one whose testimony
justifies an indictment. The grand jury may ask that additional witnesses
be called if it believes this necessary.
| QUESTIONING THE WITNESS
|Witnesses are called to testify
one after another. Before testifying, the witness must swear or affirm
to tell the truth. The foreperson administers the oath to the witness.
The witness may then be questioned by the attorney general, if present,
by the foreperson, and by other grand jurors.
All questions asked of each witness should be proper and relevant
to the charge under consideration. In case of doubt as to whether
a question is appropriate, the advice of the attorney general may
be sought. If necessary, a ruling may be obtained from the court.
If a witness who is appearing before the grand jury refuses to answer
a question, the attorney general may bring the matter before the court
for a ruling as to whether or not an answer may be compelled.
Because of the need for secrecy, it is very important that only authorized
persons be present in the grand jury room while evidence is being
presented. This means that only the following persons may be present:
the grand jurors, the deputy attorney general, the witness under examination,
an interpreter when required, and, with the court's approval, a stenographer
or operator of a recording device.
If an indictment is ultimately returned, the presence of unauthorized
persons in the grand jury room could invalidate it.
| EVIDENCE NEEDED TO INDICT
|Grand jurors must carefully
consider the evidence presented, usually without an explanation being
offered by the accused, and decide whether they are satisfied that
there is probable cause or, in other words, reasonable ground to believe
that the crime stated in the proposed indictment was committed and
that the accused committed it. Only the evidence presented to the
grand jury in the grand jury room may be considered in determining
whether to find an indictment.
| GRAND JURY DELIBERATIONS
|When the grand jury
has received all the evidence on a given charge, all persons other
than the members of the grand jury must leave the room. The presence
of any other person in the grand jury room while the grand jury deliberates
or votes may nullify an indictment.
After all persons other than the grand jury members have left the
room, the foreperson will ask the grand jurors to discuss and vote
upon the proposed indictment. Each grand juror has the right to express
their view of the case under consideration. Only after each grand
juror has been given the opportunity to be heard should the vote be
| FINDING AND RETURN OF INDICTMENT
|The foreperson or a grand
juror designated by the foreperson must keep a record of the number
of jurors concurring in the finding of every indictment and file the
record with the prothonotary. This record will not be made public
except on order of the court.
An indictment may be found in New Castle County only upon the affirmative
vote of 9 or more grand jurors and in Kent County or in Sussex County
only upon the affirmative vote of 7 or more grand jurors.
If there are sufficient affirmative votes in favor of finding an indictment,
the foreperson signs the proposed indictment as a "true bill." If
there are less than the required number of votes, the foreperson so
reports by marking the first page of the proposed indictment or the
county or counts that have not received the required number of votes
"ignored." Every indictment presented to the grand jury must be returned
to a judge in open court either as a "true bill" or "ignored."
| SECRECY OF GRAND JURY PROCEEDINGS
|The law imposes upon each
grand juror an obligation of secrecy. This obligation is emphasized
in the oath each takes and in the charge given to the grand jury by
The tradition of secrecy continues as a vital part of the grand jury
system for many reasons. It protects the grand jurors from being subjected
to pressure by persons who may be involved in the actions of the grand
jury. It prevents the escape of those against whom an indictment is
being considered. It encourages witnesses before the grand jury to
give full and truthful information as to the commission of a crime.
It also prevents tampering with or intimidation of such witnesses
before they testify at trial. Finally, it prevents the disclosure
of investigations that result in no action by the grand jury and avoids
any stigma the public might attach to one who is the subject of a
mere investigation by the grand jury.
The contents of all indictments, presentments, and reports are secret
and may not be disclosed by the grand jury except by order of the
court. Certain disclosure may be made to the attorney general, of
course, for use in the performance of the duties of that office, but
disclosure of the grand jury's deliberations and the vote of any juror
must not be made even to the attorney general. No one may inquire
into what a grand juror said or how a grand juror voted, except upon
order of the court.
Any indictment, presentment, or report must be returned in open court
directly to the judge then presiding, and shall not otherwise be disclosed
by any member of the grand jury. The presiding judge may order that
an indictment shall be sealed until the defendant is arrested. Any
presentment or report must be sealed until it is considered by the
judges of the court.
The pledge of secrecy is paramount and permanent. It is necessary
to achieve protection for grand jurors and all individuals involved,
including witnesses, and is in the interest of all citizens. Knowing
violation of the restrictions on disclosure is punishable as a contempt
No more need be said as to the importance of a grand juror's not communicating
to family, to friends, to anyone, what takes place in the grand jury
room. The only time this may be done is when, after a full hearing
of all concerned, the court itself under certain circumstances orders
such a disclosure in the interest of justice.
| PROTECTION OF GRAND JURORS
|The law gives the members
of a grand jury broad immunity for actions taken by them within the
scope of their authority as grand jurors. Because of this immunity,
grand jurors must perform their duties with the highest sense of responsibility.
|Grand Jurors should:
| Attend meetings regularly so that a
quorum will be present to conduct the grand jury's business.
Be on time for each meeting so that others are
not kept waiting.
Treat witnesses courteously and question them
in an orderly manner.
Pay close attention to the testimony and consider
the evidence conscientiously.
Not dismiss a witness or shut off discussion until
all grand jurors are ready to vote.
Not discuss the cases under investigation with
anyone except other grand jurors and the deputy attorney general, and then only in the Grand Jury Room.
Be scrupulously fair and independent in their
consideration of the case, in order that the grand jury's important purpose will be served.
Report to the court any improper attempt by anyone
to talk or otherwise communicate with them about grand jury proceedings.
Seek guidance from the attorney general or the
court when in doubt about how to proceed properly.
depends upon the quality of the jurors who serve in our courts. There
is no more worthwhile work than the proper performance of jury duty,
and the faithful fulfillment of this obligation should bring its own
reward in the satisfaction of an important civic service.