Donald Trump indicted by grand jury

Following the Manhattan Grand Jury indictment of former President Donald Trump, it is worth looking at the mechanics of what is happening in the legal system and how the process that applies to all world is applied to Trump.

We spoke to Elie Honig, CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor and author of the new book, “Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It,” for a refresher on how grand juries and indictments work. A portion of our conversation, conducted over the phone, is below:

Grand Jury vs Trial Jury

WOLF: What should we know about the difference between a grand jury and a trial jury?

HONG: A grand jury decides accuse, i.e. indict a case. A trial jury determines guilt or not guilty.

A grand jury is larger, usually 23 members, and the prosecutor only needs the majority votes of a grand jury – as opposed to a trial jury, which must be unanimous.

The standard of proof in a grand jury is lower than in a trial jury. In a grand jury you only have to show probable cause, i.e. more likely than not. But of course in a trial setting you have to show proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The other thing to know is that a grand jury is an almost entirely one-sided process.

Usually the only people allowed in the room are grand jurors, prosecutors, witnesses and a court reporter.

In some cases, including New York, a potential defendant has a limited right to present evidence, but no defense attorneys are allowed in the room.

There is no cross-examination of prosecution evidence. There is no presentation of defense evidence.

Almost every time a prosecutor asks for a grand jury indictment, he or she will get a grand jury indictment.

What is an indictment?

WOLF: How would you define “accusation”?

HONG: It is a document stating formal charges against the accused.

Three Trump grand juries

WOLF: We have three grand juries leading – for election interference in Georgia, federally for declassified documents, and then the Manhattan DA. What variation is there in grand juries between city, county and federal?

HÔNIG: There are minor variations, but the basics remain the same.

Here is an example of one of the minor variations in New York State, but not in the federal system, i.e. for the DOJ. The accused has a limited right to be informed and given the opportunity to testify or present defense evidence, which we have seen play out with Trump and then asking Robert Costello to testify.

This is not the case at the federal level. You do not have to give a defendant the opportunity to testify or present evidence. It’s a slight variation. But the basic fundamentals are the same.


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