Georgia's special grand jury can't indict Trump — but it has more power to force witnesses to spill the beans
Donald Trump at the Elysee Palace. (Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock.com)

The case against Donald Trump in Georgia seems fairly open-and-shut, but there's a good reason not to expect the special grand jury to indict him on charges related to his effort to overturn his election loss in the state.

Prosecutors in Georgia may convene "special purpose" grand juries to conducted yearlong investigations of complicated crimes, but the 23-person panels may only issue official reports recommending further action, and then it's up to the local district attorney to determine whether they'll impanel a regular grand jury that can seek an indictment, reported The Daily Beast.

“In Georgia, it’s primarily been used for government corruption cases and secrecy," said B. Michael Mears, a professor at John Marshall law school who previously headed the state's public defender's office. "The special purpose grand jury is an investigative tool that the prosecutor can use."

Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis, a first-term Democrat who called the special grand jury, will review its report once finished and determine whether to continue the case against Trump -- who was recorded asking secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to "find" the 11,780 votes he needed to defeat Joe Biden.

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Attorneys for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), whose efforts to help Trump overcome his loss have also fallen under investigation, have argued the special grand jury isn't set up to take action as part of their effort to fight off a subpoena for his testimony -- but legal experts say these panels can do much more than a regular grand jury.

“This sort of investigation is so wide-ranging and impactful, it merits first the fact-finding of a special grand jury relatively unlimited in time," said Ronald L. Carlson, who chairs the University of Georgia’s law school. "They don’t have to finish up by the end of July or something like that."

Witnesses in a criminal conspiracy cannot be forced to testify against themselves, of course, thanks to the Fifth Amendment, but special purpose grand juries may offer them immunity to encourage their testimony.

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“You can lock testimony down," Mears said. "You can force people to come testify, and you can prevent them from changing their testimony later on. In a regular grand jury, that type of coercion is not used.”

“The special grand jury can say, ‘We're not indicting, we'll ask the judge to grant you use immunity,’" he added. "If you take away the possibility that person can be indicted because they may say something, then there's no purpose invoking the Fifth Amendment. It allows the special purpose grand jury to develop testimony to get other leads."

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