When hearing reports about a grand jury indictment, many people in Tennessee may or may not know that this is not the same thing as any decision made by a petit jury. There are distinct differences between grand juries and petit juries and their associated responsibilities.
As MSNBC explains, a petit jury is what most people think of when they think of a jury. It is made up often of 12 people but can have as few as six. The job of these people is to hear testimony in a criminal or a civil case. If a criminal case, the petit jury may make a determination of guilt or innocence for the charges levied against the defendant. If a civil case, the petit jury may decide in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant.
In contrast, a grand jury is made up of as many as 23 people or as few as 12. The job of these people is to hear testimony and determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence with which to pursue prosecution against a defendant. There is no judge in a grand jury courtroom and an indictment by a grand jury means that the prosecution team may proceed with its case and potentially a trial.
The Tennesse Courts adds that there are certain qualifications that must be met in order to serve on a grand jury. Anyone who is related to a sixth degree to either the alleged victim or defendant in a case may not serve on that grand jury. Neither may a person who is a prosecutor, has been charged with an indictable crime or who may have been the alleged victim of the crime.