How Grand Jury Subpoenas Work: A Step-by-Step Guide

How Grand Jury Subpoenas Work: A Step-by-Step Guide

Getting a grand jury subpoena can be intimidating. But don’t panic! With some preparation, you can get through it. This article will walk you through the step-by-step process so you know what to expect.

What is a Grand Jury?

First, let’s cover the basics. 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 that a crime has been committed. If the grand jury finds probable cause, it will return an indictment charging a person with a crime.

The grand jury operates in secret – its members, proceedings, and records are not disclosed to the public. This allows witnesses to speak freely without fear of retaliation. Grand juries have broad investigative powers and can issue subpoenas demanding documents, physical evidence, and witness testimony.

Who Issues the Subpoena?

Although it’s called a grand jury subpoena, it is actually prepared and issued by the prosecutor’s office – not the grand jury itself. Federal agents involved in the investigation will work with the prosecutor to prepare a list of the items being subpoenaed.

Then a law enforcement agent will formally serve the subpoena on the recipient. This is typically done in-person on an individual or on the records custodian of a company.

How to Prepare for a Document Subpoena

If you receive a subpoena duces tecum demanding documents, you’ll need to promptly begin gathering responsive records. Some tips:

  • Review the subpoena carefully to understand what is being requested and the relevant time period. Make sure you understand each request.
  • Appoint one person as the records custodian to coordinate the document search. Have them maintain a log describing where records were found.
  • Identify where responsive files may be located – onsite, offsite, on personal devices, in the cloud, etc. Suspend any scheduled destruction of records.
  • Collect both paper and electronic records. Use search terms to identify relevant electronic files.
  • Create an organized system for reviewing and labeling the documents. Number each page.
  • Only turn over responsive documents within the scope of the subpoena. Do not overproduce.
  • Withhold any privileged documents – have your lawyer review to protect privileges.

How to Prepare Your Testimony

For a subpoena ad testificandum requiring you to testify:

  • Carefully review the subpoena to understand what topics you may be questioned on.
  • Meet with your lawyer to discuss the investigation and prepare. Refuse to answer questions only on their advice.
  • Tell the truth. Lying can lead to perjury charges.
  • Review any documents you may be questioned on.
  • Stick to what you know firsthand. Don’t speculate. Answer only the question asked.
  • Remain calm and professional. Avoid arguing with prosecutors.

What Happens During Grand Jury Testimony?

Here’s the basic process for giving testimony:

  • You will be brought into the grand jury room where the jurors and prosecutor are seated.
  • You take an oath to tell the truth.
  • The prosecutor will begin asking you questions. Answer truthfully, even if the truth may incriminate you.
  • Your lawyer can be present outside the room. If you need to consult them, ask for a break.
  • After the prosecutor is done, jurors may ask you questions.
  • Do not discuss your testimony with anyone afterwards since grand jury proceedings are secret.

Consequences of Not Complying

Ignoring or defying a federal grand jury subpoena can lead to:

  • Being held in contempt of court, with penalties including fines and jail time.
  • Obstruction of justice charges if you hid or destroyed requested evidence.
  • Adverse inferences being drawn about your innocence if you stay silent and refuse to testify.
  • Reputational harm and increased suspicion on you if you do not cooperate.

So while being subpoenaed can be unsettling, cooperating is usually the best approach if you want to resolve the matter quickly.

I hope this overview demystifies the federal grand jury process. With thorough preparation and an experienced lawyer, you can get through testimony or document production calmly and compliantly. Let me know if you have any other questions!