Grand Jury Investigations

A grand jury is a powerful tool that federal prosecutors can use to investigate and gather information about white collar crimes. The grand jury has the power to subpoena witnesses to testify and produce documents for review in an effort to gain information about an individual's involvement in a white collar crime and to see if there is enough evidence to indict that person. If you have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced defense attorney.

Grand Jury Procedures

In addition to traditional police investigations, federal prosecutors often employ the powers of a grand jury to investigate white collar crimes. The federal prosecutor, generally an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA), can use the grand jury to gather documents and obtain testimony regarding the crime. The AUSA prepares an indictment for review and approval by the grand jury, and generally, an indictment will be approved. A federal grand jury is comprised of 23 citizens from the judicial district in which it sits. Sixteen grand jurors need to be present to constitute a quorum, and 12 must vote in favor for an indictment to be returned.

The federal prosecutor acts as the main legal advisor to the grand jury, decides which witnesses will be called (the grand jury can also issue additional subpoenas), questions the witnesses (grand jurors can also ask questions) and exercises control over whether immunity will be granted in a particular situation.

There are three categories of people the prosecutor and grand jury are interested in: witness, subject and target. A witness has information related to the investigation, but is not under any suspicion. A target is someone who will probably be charged. A subject lies between a target and a witness. It is someone who has engaged in suspicious conduct, but the prosecutor is not sure if a crime can be established so he or she is looking for more information. A witness does not have a constitutional right to have counsel present during the grand jury proceedings.


Federal grand jury subpoenas are issued pursuant to Rule 17 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The subpoena will generally command the witness to attend and give testimony before the grand jury at a particular time set by the prosecutor. The subpoena can also demand that the witness produce certain categories of documents.

Generally, if you receive a subpoena to testify before the grand jury, it is because the prosecutor believes that you have information or documents that could be relevant to the ongoing investigation. In many cases, the subpoena requests documents kept in the ordinary course of business, and there is really no reason to believe that you are under investigation. If you receive a grand jury subpoena, it is important to have an experienced white collar lawyer review it and discuss the investigation. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to assert one or more privileges, such as the attorney-client privilege, regarding documents that have been subpoenaed to protect your rights.

Advantages of the Grand Jury

The grand jury has several advantages over normal police investigations, including:

  • The power to subpoena individuals to appear before it or produce documents
  • Lay participation
  • Closed proceedings
  • Grants of immunity to witnesses
  • Secrecy
  • The federal prosecutor's role in leading the investigation


Being called before the grand jury, as a witness, subject or target is a serious matter. It is important to speak to an experienced white collar criminal defense attorney if you receive a subpoena, especially if you suspect you may be the target of a criminal investigation. Having the assistance of an attorney early on may allow you to avoid indictment. If you have questions about grand juries or white collar criminal defense, contact an experienced attorney.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.