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Do federal grand jury witnesses need legal representation?

Federal grand juries collect evidence through the use of subpoenas before deciding whether criminal charges are warranted. There is no requirement for a Milwaukee witness to retain an attorney before testifying in front of a federal grand jury, but there is a compelling reason to seek a lawyer’s advice. A witness may be the target of a federal criminal investigation.

Federal grand juries, made up of 16 to 23 jurors, approve or disapprove of bringing felony charges against defendants. An individual who waives the right to be indicted by a grand jury can be charged with a crime directly by a prosecutor. In that case, the grand jury’s opinion is unnecessary.

Evidence gathering during grand jury proceedings includes testimony from witnesses other than people under suspicion of committing a crime. Juries also consider testimony from law enforcement officers and subpoenaed physical evidence. The proceedings are recorded to prevent prosecutorial misconduct.

Summoned witnesses are obliged to appear before a grand jury or risk a contempt of court charge. Federal prosecutors, jurors, court reporters and witnesses are the only people allowed to attend grand jury sessions. The public and judges are not present.

An individual who cannot afford legal representation has a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney once he or she has been charged with a crime. In grand jury proceedings, there are no criminal charges until an indictment is issued. However, grand jury witnesses are permitted to ask for a court-appointed legal advisor.

A criminal defense attorney may not accompany a client into a grand jury room. A witness may ask permission to leave the grand jury room to consult with an attorney nearby.

It is advisable to seek legal advice if you have been called to testify or suspect you may be subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. The sooner you speak with a lawyer, the more informed you will be about your rights.

Source: University of Dayton School of Law, “Federal Grand Jury,” accessed June 17, 2015

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