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Do I need a lawyer if I have been summoned before a grand jury?

Do you know the difference between a grand jury and a trial jury? Although these two judicial bodies may share the same general name, there is a significant difference between the two.

Individuals who are facing allegations of federal crimes -- which can include Medicare fraud and mail fraud, among others -- may be called before a grand jury for their indictments. Grand juries in Florida determine whether an individual may be tried for a crime they are accused of committing.

A grand jury generally indicts defendants for felony violations, which include bank robberies or interstate drug trafficking. In most cases, a grand jury indictment does not make much sense for misdemeanors, but they are also not necessary for all felonies. The nature of the criminal charge will determine whether a grand jury indictment will be necessary.

It is generally a wise idea to have the assistance of an attorney at your side throughout the grand jury indictment process. Even as a witness or other neutral party, you still need to have your legal interests protected and represented. This is even more critical if you are a criminal defendant who is facing federal penalties for serious allegations of fraud or other criminal charges.

An understanding of the federal criminal process is essential for proper decision-making in the face of fraud accusations. After a grand jury indictment, the defendant may be arraigned during a hearing in which the charges are presented in formal court. At that time, the defendant is required to enter a plea.

Although most defendants in federal criminal cases enter a guilty plea, this is certainly not a requirement; an attorney can advice defendants about their personal options.

Ultimately, if you are facing criminal action in a federal court, it makes sense to seek the help of an attorney early in the process. That way, your lawyer can coach you through the entire case instead of having to clean up mistakes later in the proceedings. An attorney is a valuable asset in protecting your legal rights throughout the federal court process.

Source: Federal Judicial Center, "How Cases Move Through Federal Courts," July 25, 2014

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