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Role of the Grand Jury and the Preliminary Hearing in Pretrial Screening

NCJ Number
D D Emerson; N L Ames
Date Published
172 pages
This comparison of the preliminary hearing and grand jury in pretrial screening in two Arizona counties examines the reasons for prosecutors' choices of different modes of case screening; compares the grand jury and the preliminary hearing regarding efficiency, due process safeguards, and efficacy; examines the manner in which enacted reforms are implemented; and explores the use of the grand jury in complex cases.
Pima and Maricopa Counties were selected for analysis. The study found that even districts operating under a single framework can develop widely different approaches to case screening. In Maricopa County, the bulk of the cases are scheduled for the preliminary hearing, although a sizable number of these hearings are waived either with or without an accompanying plea. In Pima County, on the other hand, the majority of the cases go to the grand jury, with only a small fraction of the cases presented to the preliminary hearing. In both counties, the reasons offered by prosecutors for choosing one or the other proceeding center around such considerations as perceived efficiency, the opportunity to test witness credibility, and preservation of testimony. The basic differences between sites appear to reflect local norms and customs. The study's conclusions are that nothing is so inherently unique about the nature of each proceeding as to preclude using the grand jury or the preliminary hearing for the same screening purposes, and both the grand jury and the preliminary hearing serve a variety of collateral functions which may be important in determining when and how each is used. Moreover, neither the grand jury nor the preliminary hearing screened out a significant percentage of cases in the jurisdictions. Other conclusions are that the preliminary hearing provides a better test of probable cause in terms of the amount of evidence presented and the opportunity to challenge that evidence, and it is impossible to say which approach is more efficient. The appendixes contain the study methodology and the legal framework. Tabular data and footnotes are provided.