As we noted in a previous blog, the framers considered the use of grand juries vital to our democratic system. That is why is contained within the Fifth Amendment (an amendment concerned with the protection of life and property). As the colonies grew from local settlements to an independent country to a modern-day powerful nation, the use of grand juries has become wide-spread and common. To the point that most consider the issue unimportant and uninteresting.
However, the modern day use of a grand jury is very important to someone charged with a felony. As you will recall from previous blog entries, there are three classifications of crimes. There are Class C Misdemeanors which are generally held in city court or municipal court. The next are Class A and B Misdemeanors that are filed by informations and presented to county courts at law. Next, are felonies, which are offenses that are heard at the state district court level.
If you recall, the text of the Constitution states that a "person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a punishment of a Grand Jury." The Supreme Court has held that "infamous" means any crime that attaches to any crime that could result in the person being incarcerated in a prison. Federal law, however, allows for a misdemeanor to be prosecuted by information, even though there is a potential fine and potential jail sentence.
Also, the grand jury indictment clause has not been incorporated under the Fourteenth Amendment and states are free to do as they wish. However, Texas included a grand jury indictment clause in its Constitution of 1876.