Not every potential criminal case goes to a grand jury — but the idea that you may be indicted on a crime can certainly be intimidating.

It’s worth noting — right up front — that an indictment isn’t the same as a conviction. In fact, grand juries are generally a “prosecutor’s playground,” and it’s usually fairly easy to get an indictment.

Just the same, understanding what happens during the grand jury process can help you prepare.

What happens during a grand jury?

In this state, grand juries are composed of 23 citizens. These jurors are given an opening statement by the prosecutor and shown evidence that the prosecution believes builds their case.

Jurors may also listen to witnesses who (generally) tend to support the prosecution’s case. Grand juries are, however, secret — which means that the witnesses may not be known to you nor will their testimony be revealed. The secrecy around grand jury proceedings is designed to encourage witnesses to speak freely, especially when they might be in danger — and this is particularly true for informants and undercover agents that may be involved.

Normally, the defendant (you) won’t testify in the grand jury proceedings — although the prosecutor can grant them the right to do so. This usually isn’t considered wise, especially because your defense attorney cannot be present in the room.

If the grand jury agrees that the prosecutor has a case, they’ll indict you. If they “no-bill” your case, it means that they couldn’t find merit in the prosecution’s claim.

What should you do if you’re facing a grand jury?

There are a lot of nuances to the grand jury process, and every criminal case is unique. The wisest thing that you can do if a grand jury has been convened is to make sure that you have strong representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.