Grand jury room

Q: What is a grand jury? 

A: An investigative body authorized by statute to investigate organized crime, public corruption or both under circumstances in which more than one county is involved in the investigation. Jurisdiction also includes cases where a county district attorney – due to a potential conflict of interest – asks the state attorney general’s office to take over the investigation. Some cases are also referred by state agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection or the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. 


Q: What types of cases do grand juries investigate?

A: Most cases involve multi-jurisdictional issues, such as drug trafficking cases in which illegal substances are brought in from out of state and distributed over county lines, Medicaid and insurance fraud, environmental protection, gambling, public corruption and cold case homicides. 


Q: How many people serve on a grand jury, how long is their term and how are they chosen?

A: Grand jurors are selected the same way jurors are selected in each county – with names gathered at random by a computer from voter registration lists. Each grand jury is comprised of

23 members and has a minimum of seven but no more than 15 alternates. Grand jurors serve a period of 18 months – one week per month – but can vote to extend this period by six months. Grand jurors cannot serve more than 24 months. 


Q: How are grand jurors compensated?

A: Grand jurors receive about $40 per day and are given $10 per day for lunch. Jurors staying overnight because of travel distance are allotted an additional $6 for breakfast and $25 for dinner per day. 


Q: How do cases reach a grand jury?

A: Cases are referred from a county district attorney’s office, the state police, the governor’s office, state agencies designated for enforcement and, in rare cases, from a county president judge. Cases are then given to the state attorney general’s office, which reviews and issues a notice if it accepts jurisdiction of the investigation. Each accepted case is then assigned a number under the grand jury and presented to the grand jury’s supervising judge, who reviews it and decides whether to accept or reject it. 


Q: How does the process work?

A: After the case is accepted by both the state attorney general’s office and the grand jury supervising judge, state investigators will execute search warrants, wiretaps, surveillance and other investigative techniques to compile evidence and call witnesses to present testimony to the grand jury. After taking those measures, the state attorney general’s office can decide to drop the case or ask grand jurors for a report or a presentment.


Q: What is the difference between a grand jury report and a grand jury presentment?

A: A grand jury report is a noncriminal recommendation as to measures to avoid potential criminal activity. A presentment is a document that outlines the factual basis upon which specific charges are recommended to be filed against specific individuals. If the grand jury chooses to issue a presentment, the attorney general’s office and police will prepare criminal complaints and begin the process of making arrests if they believe charges are warranted.


Q: What is the role of a supervising judge?

A: Supervising judges – there are three in Pennsylvania

– make sure the grand jury process complies with the rules of criminal procedure; they issue subpoenas, search warrants and warrants for using surveillance; and they manage the process of the grand jury investigation itself. Supervising judges also travel to designated counties to select a 200-person pool of potential jurors, whose names are submitted to the state Supreme Court for full background checks. The supervising judge is then given a list of 50 people from that pool, who are summoned and individually interviewed before being narrowed down into a 23-person grand jury with seven to 15 alternates.

​Jocelyn Brumbaugh is a reporter for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter @JBrumbaughTD.