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Mississippi grand jury proceedings and preliminary hearings

As discussed in a previous blog post, the Fifth Amendment includes the right to a grand jury. Grand juries decide whether criminal charges should be brought against the defendant based on evidence presented by the prosecutor. While all states have provisions allowing for grand juries, some courts use preliminary hearings to determine whether there is probable cause. In Mississippi, grand jury hearings are held for defendants charged with a felony.

Grand jury proceedings are held in private to encourage witnesses to present evidence without fear of retaliation and to protect the defendant's reputation in the event he is not indicted. The traditional rules of evidence do not apply, and the proceedings are more relaxed than typical court proceedings, allowing jurors to consider all available evidence. Preliminary hearings are also held to discern whether there is probable cause, however that determination is made by a judge, not a jury.

In Mississippi, criminal defendants who have been charged with a felony are entitled to a preliminary hearing upon request. Defendants who have been indicted by a grand jury, however, are not. Upon its request, the preliminary hearing shall be held within 14 days unless the charging affidavit was dismissed, the hearing was waived in writing by the defendant, the hearing was postponed due to justifiable circumstances or an indictment charging the same offense was returned by the grand jury before commencement of the hearing.

If the preliminary hearing is not held within 14 days of its request, the defendant shall be released on recognizance, which means that the defendant is not required to pay bail but is rather released after he or she promises in writing to appear for future court proceedings. The defendant's guilt or innocence will then be determined at their criminal trial.

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