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From Bouvier's Law Dictionary, Revised 6th Ed (1856):
GRAND JURY, practice. A body of men, consisting of not less than twelve nor more than twenty-four, respectively returned by the sheriff of every county to every session of the peace, oyer and terminer and general gaol delivery, to whom indictments are preferred. 4 Bl. Com. 302; 1 Chit. C. L. 310, 1. 2. There is just reason to believe that this institution existed among the Saxons, Crabb's C. L. 35. By the constitutions of Clarendon, enacted 10 H. II. A. D. 1164, it is provided, that "if such men were suspected, whom none wished or dared to accuse, the sheriff, being thereto required by the bishop, should swear twelve men of the neighborhood, or village, to declare the truth" respecting such supposed crime; the jurors being summoned as witnesses or accusers, rather than judges. If this institution did not exist before, it seems to be pretty certain that this statute established grand juries, or recognized them, if they existed before. 3. A view of the important duties of grand juries will be taken, by considering, 1. The organization of the grand jury. 2. The extent of its jurisdiction. 3. The mode of doing business. 4. The evidence to be received. 5. Their duty to make presentments. 6. The secrecy to be observed by the grand jury. 4. - 1. Of the organization of the grand jury. The law requires that twenty-four citizens shall be summoned to attend on the grand jury; but in practice, not more than twenty-three are sworn, because of the inconvenience which else might arise, of having twelve, who are sufficient to find a true bill, opposed to twelve others who might be against it. 6 Adolph. & Ell. 236; S. C. 33 e. C. L. R. 66; 2 Caines, R. 98. Upon being called, all who present themselves are sworn, as it scarcely ever happens that all who are summoned are in attendance. The grand jury cannot consist of less than twelve, and from fifteen to twenty are usually sworn. 2 Hale, P. C. 161; 7 Sm. & Marsh. 58. Being called into the jury box, they are usually permitted to select a foreman whom the court appoints, but the court may exercise the right to nominate one for them. The foreman then takes the following oath or affirmation, namely: "You A B, as foreman of this inquest for the body of the ______ of _________, do swear, (or affirm) that you will diligently inquire, and true presentments make, of all such articles, matters and things as shall be given you in charge, or otherwise come to your knowledge touching the present service; the commonwealth's counsel, your fellows and your own, you shall keep secret; you shall present no one for envy, hatred or malice; nor shall you leave any one unpresented for fear, favor, affection, hope of reward or gain; but shall present all things truly, as they come to your knowledge, according to the best of your understanding, (so help you God.") It will be perceived that this oath contains the substance of the duties of the grand jury. The foreman having been sworn or affirmed, the other grand jurors are sworn or affirmed according to this formula: "You 'and each of you do swear (or affirm) that the same oath (or affirmation) which your foreman has taken on his part, you and every one of you shall well and truly observe on your part." Being so sworn or affirmed, and having received the charge of the court, the grand jury are organized, and may proceed to the room provided for them to transact the business which may be laid before them. 2 Burr. 1088; Bac. Ab. Juries, A. The grand jury constitute a regular body until discharged by the court, or by operation of law, as where they cannot continue by virtue of an act of assembly beyond a certain day. But although they have been formally discharged by the court, if they have not separated, they may be called back, and fresh bills submitted to them; 9 C. & P. 43; S. C. 38 E. C. L. R. 2 8. 5. - 2. The extent of the grand jury's jurisdiction. Their jurisdiction is coextensive with that of the court for which they inquire; both as to the offences triable there, and the territory over which such court has jurisdiction. 6. - 3. The mode of doing business. The foreman acts as president, and the jury usually appoint one of their number to perform the duties of secretary. No records are to be kept of the acts of the grand jury, except for their own use, because, as will be seen hereafter, their proceedings are to be secret. Being thus prepared to enter upon their duties, the grand jury are supplied with bills of indictment by the attorney-general or other officer, representing the state or commonwealth against offenders. On these bills are endorsed the names of the witnesses by whose testimony they are supported. The witnesses are in attendance in another room, and must be called when wanted. Before they are examined as to their knowledge of the matters mentioned in the indictment, care must be taken that they have been sworn or affirmed. For the sake of convenience, they are generally sworn or affirmed in open court before they are sent to be examined, and when so qualified, a mark to that effect is made opposite their names. 7. In order to save time, the best practice is to find a true bill, as soon as the jury are satisfied that the defendant ought to be put upon his trial. It is a waste of time to examine any other witness after they have arrived at that conclusion. Twelve at least must agree, in order to find a true bill; but it is not required that they should be unanimous. Unless that number consent, the bill must be ignored. When a defendant is to be put upon his trial, the foreman must write on the back of the indictment "a true bill," sign his name as foreman, and date the time of finding. On the. contrary, where there is not sufficient evidence to authorize the finding of the bill, the jury return that they are ignorant whether the person accused committed the offence charged in the bill, which is expressed by the foreman endorsing on the bill "ignoramus," signing his name as before, and dating the time. 8. - 4. Of the evidence to be received. In order to, ascertain the facts which the jury have not themselves witnessed, they must depend upon the statement of those who know them, and who will testify to them. When the witness, from his position and ability, has been in a condition to know the facts about which he testifies, he is deserving of implicit confidence; if, with such knowledge, he has no motive for telling a false or exaggerated story, has intelligence enough to tell what he knows, and give a probable account of the transaction. If, on the other hand, from his position he could not know the facts, or if knowing them, he distorts them, he is undeserving of credit. The jury are the able judges of the credit and confidence to which a witness is entitled. 9. Should any member of the jury be acquainted with any fact on which the grand jury are to act, he must, before he testifies, be sworn or affirmed, as any other witness, for the law requires this sanction in all cases. 10. As the jury are not competent to try the accused, but merely to investigate the case so far as to ascertain whether he ought to be put on his trial, they cannot hear evidence in his favor; theirs is a mere preliminary inquiry; it is when he comes to be tried in court that he may defend himself by examining witnesses in his favor, and showing the facts of the case. 11. - 5. Of presentments. The jury are required to make true presentments of all such matters which may be given to them in charge, or which have otherwise come to their knowledge. A presentment, properly speaking, is the notice taken by the grand jury of any offence from their own knowledge, as of a nuisance, a libel, or the like. In these cases, the authors of the offence should be named, so that they may be indicted, 12. - 6. Of the secrecy to be observed by the grand jury. The oath which they have taken obliges them to keep secret the commonwealth's counsel, their fellows and their own. Although contrary to the general spirit of our institutions, which do not shun daylight, this secrecy is required by law for wise purposes. It extends to the votes given in any case, to the evidence delivered by witnesses, and the communications of the jurors to each other; the disclosure of these facts, unless under the sanction of law, would render the imprudent juror who should make them public, liable to punishment. Giving intelligence to a defendant that a bill has been found against him, to enable him to escape, is so obviously wrong, that no one can for a moment doubt its being criminal. The grand juror who should be guilty of this offence might, upon conviction, be fined and imprisoned. The duration of the secrecy appears not to be definitely settled, but it seems this injunction is to remain as long as the particular circumstances of each case require. In a case, for example, where a witness swears to a fact in open court, on the trial, directly in opposition to what he swore before the grand jury, there can be no doubt the injunction of secrecy, as far as regards this evidence, would be at an end, and the grand juror might be sworn to testify what this witness swore to in the grand jury's room, in order that the witness might be prosecuted for perjury. 2 Russ. Cr.. 616; 4 Greenl. Rep. 439; but see contra, 2 Halst. R. 347; 1 Car. & K. 519. Vide, generally, 1 Chit. Cr. Law, 162; 1 Russ. Cr. 291; 2 Russ. Cr. 616 2 Stark. Ev. 232, n. 1; 1 Hawk. 65, 500 2 Hawk. ch. 25; .3 Story, Const. Sec. 1778 2 Swift's Dig. 370; 4 Bl. Com. 402; Archb. Cr. Pl. 63; 7 Sm. Laws Penna. 685.