Is it unusual for a misdemeanor case go to a grand jury? Simply put, YES.
Most misdemeanor cases in Texas are charged by way of a document called an ”information.” An information does not have to be issued by a grand jury. The information can simply be prepared and reviewed by a District Attorney and then subsequently filed in a court with proper jurisdiction. Felony cases, on the other hand, must be indicted by a grand jury unless a defendant chooses to waive indictment and proceed without one.
What is a Grand Jury?
A grand jury in Texas is a group of 12 lay people qualified under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. These people must be citizens of the county in which the grand jury sits amongst other basic qualifications. Ultimately, the grand jury’s job is to listen to facts presented to them regarding the cases that they review and determine if probable cause exists for the State to continue forward to court. The grand jury does not have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt as to the person’s guilt; they simply need to determine whether it is probable that the person committed the alleged offense based on the facts and testimony presented.
People often mistake a grand jury for a petit jury like they see in movies and television. A grand jury is very different from the juries that hear and decide the final trial. During a grand jury proceeding, there are no arguing defense attorneys or heated opening and closing statements, and there is no judge that physically presides over the process. The grand jury meets together in private room with prosecutors and witnesses. A major distinction of the grand jury is that all grand jury proceedings are secret. The Texas code of criminal procedure clearly states that all grand jury proceedings “shall be secret.” Another basic distinction is that the grand jury is organized and run solely by the district attorney’s office. The grand jury is essentially a tool used by and for the district attorney.
Why is Johnny Manziel’s Misdemeanor Allegation Going Before the Dallas Grand Jury?
So – now that you know what a grand jury is and what they do – what does this mean for Johnny Football? If the filing of an “information” is the normal course of action for misdemeanor cases in Texas, why will Dallas County grand jurors review Johnny Manziel’s case tomorrow? That answer rests solely with the Dallas County District Attorney. We can only speculate as to why this may be.
Manziel’s case is obviously high profile for Dallas. If the Dallas DA’s office were to take the case and simply file it with an information or not reject it without the review of the grand jury, they face scrutiny from both sides of the aisle. If they file the case, Manziel’s supporters would claim that the DA’s office is trying to unfairly make an example of his celebrity status and constant publicized antics. However, if they refuse to file the case, Manziel’s critics and domestic abuse activists might claim that his popularity, money, and status are unfairly allowing him out of another sticky situation.
So, what better way to take the District Attorney’s name off of the ultimate decision than to let the Dallas County community – a.k.a. the grand jury – make it? More than likely this is precisely why, unlike most other misdemeanor cases in Dallas County, the grand jury will review Johnny Manziel’s case.
Does this make Johnny Manziel’s Case a Felony?
No. A grand jury can hear a misdemeanor case just like it can hear a felony case, we just do not see grand juries used for misdemeanor cases very often. If the grand jury votes to issue an indictment, Manziel only faces a misdemeanor charge for Assault (Bodily Injury) to a Family Member. This offense is a Class A misdmeanor which carries a punishment range of 0-365 days in county jail and a fine up to $4,000.
Ultimately, this may just be the fairest way for the State to proceed and review Johnny Football’s case and precisely the right time to use the grand jury for a misdemeanor case. As a defense attorney, I wish all of my misdemeanor clients got the benefit of a grand jury review, but the volume of cases is just too high for the State to be expected to process all felonies and misdemeanors through a grand jury.
The jury is still out on Johnny Football’s NFL career, but tomorrow the Dallas county grand jury gets to decide if even more juries lie ahead for this once seemingly-invincible Heisman Trophy winner.
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