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History of Grand Jury: From Athenian Institutions to the Jury System Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 12th, 2021


The history of the grand jury goes back to the Athenian since there some institutions which played the role of the jury, however, there are doubts that this kind of jury that existed in Athens would have influenced the development of the jury as it later evolved in England. Initially, the kings would be involved in the administration of justice leading to the introduction of the jury system. The purpose of the jury was to make sure the central government was well represented in all parts of England and to give verdicts to criminals. The history of the jury began in 1166 in England whereby King Henry II formulated a law requiring 12 kings to have judged to pass verdict to criminals. These twelve men would give trial by the ordeal but in most cases, the accused would verify their virtuousness by beating the rules of nature. Otherwise, the introduction of the jury system in the 12th century was the beginning of the conclusion of primary fairness.

These judges were required to travel through the royal capital at certain times of the year to pass a verdict, they were therefore called “circuit judges”. They were mostly involved in cases brought by private citizens whereby they did not even follow justice besides doing it for leisure, they did not even screen the defendant and consumed a lot of time, all this was happening under Norman and Plantagenet king. Under the above circumstances, there was a need for change, this was done by using royal citizens who are needed to take an oath of faithfulness and must have had a certain status quo to reduce the charges. This worked well and become to be known as the grand jury, large or Norman French.

During the 13th and 14th century, members of the grand jury who are also the petit judges, because they would indict a defendant in the grand jury and later acquit him hence the proper function of the grand jury was determined and defined to assert from the evidence provided by prosecutors, whether there were reasons to carry out the trial. The grand jury reduced the function of the royal judges besides controlling the prosecution of criminals.

The function of the grand jury was personified in the Magna Carta by a wealthy clique for security against the excessive power of the royals to take legal action against the nationals; this was during the reign of King John in 1215. Between 1312 and 1377 during the reign of King Edward III, the old-fashioned 12 judicial officials were replaced by 24 others with the introduction of common law and the12 men formed the petit court. By the 14th century, the common law gave allowed indicting and jurisdiction by the grand jury and petit court respectively. Edward Coke who was a philosopher in the English legal system further interpreted the common law (the land of the law) in a specification, which was interpreted by Blackstone in 1642 and did not protect the innocent because the king imprisoned the jurors who failed to convict the accused. The grand juries came to be really recognized after protestant juries protected the convicted catholic enemies of King Charles the II

Grand jury in the us

The first grand jury was adopted in 1635 and was meant to protect the monarchy. It was brought by Britons who were running from shackles of the royal monarchy to insure the citizens against unfair trial and this was provided in the fifth amendments of the constitution of the US and it states that no one could answer for a client unless the grand jury found an indictment. The Americans found the grand jury to have so much power such that its jury was intended to defend its self against the monarchy and indict the corrupt administrators of the government. In America, it was adopted in the local government other than an executive unlike in the Briton system where it was an executive arm of the government. In America, specifically in Virginia, the grand court system was adopted in 1662 to help in local government collection of taxes and in1700 the purpose of the prosecutors was to assist in the investigation of crimes and sometimes criticized the government. Many changes occurred in the grand jury due to conflicts arising and it was in late 1974 when the 14th amendment was made which is still applied but faces a lot of criticisms in the way it’s interpreted.

The fourteenth amendment requires that the states do not require to use the grand jury however some states use them in capital crimes, in the US the grand jury acts the function of both sword and shield and this is because they indict capital offenders and protect the publicity of innocent citizens it has sometimes indicted innocent citizens by bending the law, its powers are protected since they are only answerable to court only.

Discrimination and racism in the grand jury and its implication

Discrimination has been defined in the equal opportunity act 1995 section seven and has the following meaning:

  1. It means direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of attributes
  2. Attribute of discrimination includes
  • (Person has an attribute or had it at any time, whether or not that person had it at the time of the discrimination
  • Characteristic that a person with that attribute generally has
  • Characteristic that is generally imputed to a person with that attribute
  • That the person is alleged to have the attribute or to have had it at any time.

Cases of racial discrimination in America have been a daily story and no place has been noted to be as volatile as a court dealing with cases of racial discrimination. There have been riots in California, Florida, and Lo Angeles in 1965, 1980, and 1992, Los Angeles being the most notable after a white policeman was acquitted after he assaulted a black man, (King Rodney the Legendry). A Gallup poll carried out in 1995 indicated that the black community believed the judicial system was discriminating against the blacks. Demographic trends further indicated that the higher the income a black person earned the higher the chances of being victimized and that was different from their white counterparts whose probability of victimization diminish with the rise of income levels. Cases of racial profiling by the police force have been reported whereby it’s the race that determines the degree of searching, questioning, and suspiciousness on a racial basis, and this has always put the black man at danger and risk. Color has been used as a proxy for crime and in the United State vs. weaver; a black was arrested and detained because he was suspected to have been a drug peddler because of his color. Don Wycliffe, who is a black journalist, stated that a humiliating dangerous encounter with the police is a rite of passage for most black people. In 1999, the United States president gave a promulgated order on law enforcement and said that racial profiling was wrong, and had to stop.

In the case of Casteneda verses period, 430, united states 482. In this case, the defendant was required to prove that her race was underrepresented or she belonged to a group that was underrepresented, the defendant had:

  1. To prove that she belonged to an excluded group that was recognizable and also a distinct class
  2. To prove that the degree by which she was underrepresented by comparing the ratio between the population of population and constitution of the grand jury
  3. She had further to prove that the selection procedure was vulnerable to abuse and was not neutral to all the races

The court addressed the case of racial discrimination and jury selection with regard to the Casteneda case but it has not explicitly declared the exception of the female (woman) in the panels of the grand jury unconstitutional. In Ramseur v. Beyer, the court did not find any substantial evidence to prove that her race was underrepresented.

In a similar case rose versus Mitchell, 443, US 545 1979, In this case, there was proved a level of racial discrimination which was addressed. As early as 1879, the supreme court of the United States condemned the exclusion of colored persons in the grand juries. in strauder vs. West Virginia, but the colored have been denied to participate in the system of united states justice for decades the black Americans in the above case were not represented in the execution of justice and there were against the rights function of the law of equal protection, but this was embraced by the state office lately.

114 years after the end of the war rose vs. Mitchell it was noted that all forms of discrimination existed and will remain part of the American judicial system, notable was racial on color. Though the United States has continuously denounced the issue of discrimination in the grand juries and in petit jury panels when the cases involve cases of minority groups, the courts or the grand juries have been very tolerant in matters concerning racial discrimination.

Discrimination against black Americans in the swain vs. Alabama was authoritative since the court ruled that the issue of the principle of excluding the black Americans from the grand or petit juries was unconstitutional and argued that the prosecution had not systematically excluded them for an extended time, the number of violations of equal protection had occurred though there had been evidence that no African American served in the juror in criminal cases, but the case found no right violation and this gave the court a green right to use authoritative challenges to keep the people of color away from the juries.

In Minnesota, the prosecutors have continuously used peremptory challenges against colored persons o that have been replaced by white venire persons in the jurors. the larger proportion which is protected by the having a higher representation in the grand juries, they have a smile because no reverse on verdicts passed has ever happened since the judges find no intentional act of discrimination in carrying on of the peremptory challenges. A survey carried out by the racial bias task force on 53%of the metropolitan judicial officials and half of the defendants prove that the prosecutors use peremptory challenges against people of color who are few. Persons of color have been excluded from the juror by use of authoritative challenges leaving only the white jurors to hear the numerous cases, the reason for this is has been insignificant and irrelevant.

The Minnesota courts have justified the reason for excluding the people of color giving some vague reasons such as the people living in the same area as the defendant, the juror having little experience or being too young, they even claim that the colored juror has a history of being too forgiving or knowing the defendant many years ago before the trial began. The black Americans claim that the police have discriminated against them while caring out the investigation where by they have more intensity when dealing with the colored than their white counterparts

In Stats v bowers, the Minnesota court the analyzed the reason for excluding for excluding the black venire person from the juror panel, though the majority found no case violation of the majority rights, it was later discovered that the prosecutor had questioned the black American juror in a manner likely to disqualify her unlike the white juror though the both had the same qualification and hailed from the same background, the then judge, justice Wahl stated that the integrity of the issues of racial biasness in the court was making the integrity of the judicial officials to be doubted in the united states even though it’s a democratic government. The irony in that is that the degree of exclusion of African Americans continued especially in the selection of the jury panel.

The grand juries have been highly criticized, one major reason is that they do not allow the defendant to be presented by a counsel and in most cases they are usually in favor of the prosecutors, they even sometimes impose a case to be answered even if there wasn’t. Sol Wachtler, a former New York chief justice once said that they were serving acting like putting a ham in sandwich.

They have been further criticized because of a recent amendment whereby one does not require having some judicial experience to be a panel member of the jury.

One of the reason why the discriminated races are not convinced that the discrimination will continue is the way the legal standards are set in the supreme court of the united states is because it just require the prosecutor to give a statement to prove that there was no discrimination even though the reason may not be satisfactory or significant. The current situation is that the minority continue to suffer in courtrooms since the judicial system tolerate it


The grand juries only exist in the united states, otherwise they have been done away with in the united kingdom as well as in Australian jurisdiction, though some clauses are rarely applied in Australia such as the crime act 1958.it was abolished in new Zealand and Canada in 1961and 1970 respectively. Most of the state in the united state uses them, others have replaced them with preliminary hearing whereby the judges can hear a case and determine whether the prosecution can proceed.

The grand juries consist if ordinary citizens who form a petit jury and perform the function for a specified period of time. This jury decides whether there is a case to answer or not, that is a true bill or no true bill, this jury has the powers to call a witness to testify before them. There main function is to act as a system of checks and balances by ensuring that cases are not taken to trial on prosecutors’ words only.


  1. George Bemis, (1850) Massachusetts supreme judicial Court report of the case of John Webster, C. Little and Brown publishers, US
  2. Thompson Aarone Case.
  3. Lester Orfiel, (2005) criminal procedure from arrest to appeal, the law book Exchange Ltd publishers, US
  4. American Bar Association (2002) handbook on antitrust grand jury investigations, American Bar Association, US
  5. Edgar W. Butler, H. Fukurai, R. Krooth,(1993) Springer publishers Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web.
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IvyPanda. 2021. "History of Grand Jury: From Athenian Institutions to the Jury System." September 12, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/history-of-grand-jury/.


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