21 Jan 24

What to Expect When Called to Testify Before a Federal Grand Jury

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Last Updated on: 21st January 2024, 10:46 pm

What to Expect When Called to Testify Before a Federal Grand Jury

Getting a subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury can be intimidating. You may be wondering what your rights and responsibilities are, what questions you’ll be asked, and what the experience will be like. This article provides an overview of the federal grand jury process and tips on how to prepare if you are called to testify.

Overview of Federal Grand Juries

A federal grand jury is a group of 16 to 23 citizens who listen to evidence presented by federal prosecutors and decide whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and to charge a person with that crime (( Grand jury proceedings are overseen by a federal judge and take place in secret – the only people allowed to be present are the jurors, prosecutors, witnesses, court reporter, and interpreter if needed.The role of the grand jury is investigative. Prosecutors will ask you questions about events you may have witnessed or activities you may have been involved in that relate to the subject of the investigation. Your testimony provides information to help the grand jury determine if someone should be formally accused of a federal crime.

Receiving a Grand Jury Subpoena

A federal grand jury subpoena requires you to appear at a specific time and place to provide sworn testimony. It is a legally binding order – you must comply or you may face contempt charges. Some things to note if you receive a subpoena:

  • The subpoena must be personally served on you. This usually means someone will hand you the subpoena or leave it with an adult at your home. You may receive additional subpoenas if your testimony cannot be completed in one day.
  • You’re entitled to witness fees and mileage reimbursement ( This helps cover travel costs and lost wages from taking time off work. Fees are paid after testifying.
  • You can request a date change. If the date they schedule is a hardship, contact the prosecutor handling the case to explain and request a new date. But the subpoena is not a casual invitation – you are legally obligated to appear when ordered.
  • You may need to hire an attorney. While not always necessary, consulting a lawyer experienced with federal cases can help you understand your rights and obligations. They can also represent you during testimony.

Overview of the Grand Jury Process

Grand jury proceedings follow a specific protocol outlined in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Here is the basic process:

  • You will be brought into the grand jury room to be sworn under oath by the foreperson. Only the attorney questioning you will be present.
  • The prosecutor will begin asking you questions about the investigation – you must answer truthfully. This questioning can take minutes to hours depending on your involvement and knowledge of the case.
  • You can request a break at any time. You can also leave the room to consult with your lawyer if you have one.
  • You have the right to invoke the 5th Amendment and refuse to answer questions that may incriminate you. But you must invoke this right question-by-question.
  • You cannot have someone else in the room with you while testifying, unless you need an interpreter. And unlike a trial, you have no right to cross-examine other witnesses or evidence.
  • When questioning is complete, you will be released from your subpoena. But you could be called back to testify again.

Tips for Preparing for Your Grand Jury Testimony

If you’ve been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, some things you can do to prepare include:

  • Tell the truth. Lying under oath – even about minor details – can lead to perjury charges. If you don’t know or don’t remember something, say that.
  • Review relevant documents. If you have access to any documents, emails, notes or records related to the investigation review them to refresh your memory. But do not attempt to access records that you do not already have access to.
  • Make an outline of what you know. Make notes of key events, conversations, people involved to jog your memory. Especially note any dates, times, locations and who was present that you can remember.
  • Consult an attorney. Having an experienced federal criminal lawyer represent you can help protect your rights and guide you through the process.
  • Practice answering questions. Especially if you feel nervous, practice answering open-ended questions out loud to get comfortable explaining what you know. But avoid over-rehearsing your answers.

What You Can Expect When Testifying

If this is your first experience providing testimony, it’s normal to feel anxious or intimidated by the process. But knowing what to expect can help you feel prepared:

  • You will be treated respectfully. While the prosecutors are building their case, they cannot treat you unfairly. You always have the right to invoke your 5th Amendment protections.
  • Questions will relate to the investigation. Prosecutors have likely spent considerable time planning their questions for you. Answer directly only about events and activities you have direct knowledge of. Do not speculate or guess at answers.
  • Your lawyer can object to inappropriate questions. If you have counsel present, they can object if prosecutors ask questions that are misleading, unfair or argumentative. But the prosecutor usually has a chance to rephrase the question.
  • You may be asked broad, open-ended questions. Such as “Tell us everything you know about…” Prepare by making an outline ahead of time of the key facts you want to cover.
  • You may feel pressure to remember minor details. It’s ok to say you don’t recall something unimportant if you honestly don’t remember. Don’t make up answers.
  • You can clarify your answers. If you realize you misspoke or your answer was unclear or incomplete, let them know. You want your testimony to be truthful and accurate.
  • You may be asked similar questions in different ways. This is to confirm that your answers are consistent. Stick to the facts you know without speculating. It’s fine for your attorney to object to repetitive questioning.

While the experience can create some anxiety, being truthful and as prepared as possible can help your grand jury testimony go smoothly. Consider consulting an attorney experienced with federal cases for personalized guidance. And if you don’t already have sufficient legal counsel, here are some recommendations for federal defense attorneys that may be able to represent you.