Grand juries convene in specialized suites within courthouses to hear and review evidence of alleged criminal conduct to determine if an indictment should be issued. This differs from trial juries, sometimes called petit juries, that decide both criminal and civil cases once they go to trial.
Grand jury proceedings are conducted with secrecy. The discussion and evidence presented during grand jury proceedings need to be confidential to protect the integrity of the investigation and the privacy of parties involved.
The exact needs and procedures for grand juries differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and some design details for grand jury suites may vary. The schematic plan and descriptions below provide some best practices for the design of grand jury suites within a courthouse.
Grand Jury Suite Schematic Plan
Adjacency and Circulation
- Prosecutors – To provide maximum privacy for prosecutors who normally lead grand jury proceedings, the grand jury suite should be located adjacent to the prosecutor’s office with private circulation between the office and the suite.
- Jurors – Access for jurors can either be through private jurors’ circulation (possibly through the prosecutor’s office), or as I have seen in many federal courthouses, through public circulation. If the access for jurors is through public circulation, the juror entrance should be located in a non-conspicuous location away from busy public areas.
In one county courthouse I assessed, there was a small, enclosed waiting area for grand jurors with a relatively inconspicuous door (labeled, but without a large sign) off the public corridor. The waiting area included comfortable chairs, magazines, and a juror check-in counter.
- Witnesses - Circulation paths for witnesses should depend on the type of witness. Some witnesses are members of the public and would access the grand jury suite through the public entrance. Other witnesses may be in the custody of law enforcement (such as an incarcerated individual). For in-custody witnesses, secure circulation needs to be provided from the courthouse’s central lockup to the grand jury suite, similar to how prisoners are produced for criminal court proceedings within the courthouse.
Now that we’ve taken a look at adjacency and circulation issues, let’s explore some best practices for the design of spaces within the grand jury suite.
Grand Jury Suite Spaces
The grand jury suite consists of several distinct spaces: the grand jury hearing room, witness rooms, security officer station, sound lock, juror lounge, and restrooms.
All of these spaces need to be self-contained within the grand jury suite to minimize the need for jurors to leave the area. This helps ensure the secrecy and security of the proceedings.
The perimeter walls encompassing the suite as a whole should extend to the structure above for both security and sound privacy and have an STC rating of at least 50. Individual spaces within the suite may also have additional sound transmission requirements.
Grand Jury Hearing Room
- Prosecutor's presentation – In the grand jury hearing room, the prosecutor presents evidence, questions witnesses, and provides legal instructions to the grand jury. The prosecutor's role is to guide the grand jurors through the proceedings and provide them with the information necessary to make a determination about whether to indict.
A desk not unlike a judge’s bench should be provided for the prosecutor. The desk should be raised six to twelve inches above the floor. A witness stand, which is also raised six inches above the floor, should be provided adjacent to the prosecutor’s desk.
The individual needs of a jurisdiction may vary, but in many cases both the prosecutor’s desk and the witness stand should be built-in furniture to provide a feeling of permanence to the room, which helps convey the seriousness of the proceedings. Lifts or ramps should also be provided for wheelchair accessibility.
Space should be provided near the prosecutor’s desk for large easels and monitors for evidence presentation. Other monitors may be set up near the juror seating for maximum visibility.
- Juror seating – Grand jury sessions can be lengthy, requiring the jurors to remain seated for long periods during the presentation of evidence. After hearing evidence from prosecutors and witnesses, the grand jury deliberates in the hearing room to determine whether there is enough evidence to issue an indictment. This deliberation is typically conducted in private, without the presence of the prosecutor.
Provide comfortable seating, such as padded chairs with armrests, as well as a writing surface, for grand jurors.
The grand juror seating should also be on tiered risers, with each riser at least six inches above the seats in front of it. This provides each juror with an unobstructed view of the proceedings, witnesses, and evidence presentation. The front row of the juror seating can be at floor level to allow for a wheelchair seating area.
- Size and acoustics – The size of the room will vary depending on the number of jurors, but the room should be approximately 750 to 1,000 net square feet.
Since all jurors need to hear the proceedings and the presentation of evidence clearly, room finishes in the grand jury hearing room should include an acoustic ceiling and other acoustic surfaces. Microphones should be provided for the prosecutors and witnesses, and speakers provided throughout the room to allow all jurors to clearly hear the proceedings.
Even though the perimeter of the entire suite should be designed to minimize sound transmission, the construction of the hearing room itself should also provide sound privacy. Like the perimeter walls of the suite, the partitions of the hearing room should extend to the structure above and have an STC rating of 50 or higher.
Consider hiring an acoustic specialist to assist with sound design, acoustic finishes, and voice privacy.
As mentioned above, witnesses for grand jury proceedings may be members of the public or individuals in the custody of law enforcement. For public witnesses, provide two witness rooms accessible from public circulation where witnesses can wait prior to proceedings or can confer with prosecutors. There should be convenient access from the witness rooms into the hearing room.
The witness rooms should be at least 120 net square feet (one could be larger to maximize flexibility) and should be furnished similar to a small conference room with a table and at least four to six chairs.
To avoid private conversions from being overheard outside the witness rooms, the walls should extend to the structure above and have an STC rating of 50 or better.
In-custody witnesses would be escorted into the hearing room through secure prisoner circulation.
Security Officer Station
A security officer station should be provided at the juror entrance to the grand jury suite. This station is for a court security officer who is responsible for protecting the confidentiality of the proceeding. The station can consist of a countertop workstation and a chair.
Due to the sensitive nature of the proceedings, it’s important that sounds and voices from the hearing room cannot be overheard outside the grand jury suite. Therefore, provide an anteroom between public areas and the hearing room to serve as a sound lock. The sound lock could be a dedicated vestibule or possibly the security station could be set up in the space.
A lounge area should be provided within the suite for juror breaks.The lounge should at minimum include a service unit with a sink, coffee maker, and water cooler. It’s also a good idea to provide vending machines for sodas and snacks. A refrigerator could be provided if jurors are permitted to bring their own lunch, and if there is space some small tables and seating could be included, similar to an office break room.
To prevent the need for jurors to leave the restricted grand jury suite during restroom breaks, ADA-accessible restrooms should be provided within the suite, preferably adjacent to the juror lounge. This can reduce the risk of a juror having an interaction that would break confidentiality. It’s a best practice to include one restroom each for male and female jurors or two gender-neutral rooms. Consult local building codes to determine how many toilet and sink fixtures would be required for each restroom.
Some larger and busy jurisdictions may have a need for multiple grand jury suites to conduct several grand jury proceedings simultaneously.
But if space in the courthouse is limited and the individual needs of the jurisdiction allow it, consider sharing the amenity spaces, such as the lounge, restrooms, and possibly the sound lock and security station with more than one hearing room. Keep in mind that two individual witness rooms per hearing room would be required.
The main concern when it comes to designing a grand jury suite is protecting the sensitive nature of the proceedings. Specific design needs may vary by jurisdiction, but all grand jury proceedings require at the most basic level the ability to keep confidential and sensitive information of grand jury proceedings securely within the grand jury suite.
Following the best practices above can help unlock the secrets of designing a grand jury suite that ensures the privacy, sensitivity, and security of the proceedings.