Are state and Federal Grand Jury proceedings, testimony and deliberations secret in perpetuity?

Reference: Rule 6. The Grand Jury | Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure | US Law LII. https://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcrmp/rule_6#

Are there any well-known cases where the veil of serecy was lifted, i.e. for journalism and/or media, national security or political reasons?

What about grand jury proceedings in US territorial courts that operated before statehood? I will assume the secrecy law is "inhertied" by the (new) state court, but is that the case?

Followup: how would an individual or media entity go about requesting grand jury testimony for modern state or federal courts? File suit? I assume that winning the release of testimony would be a tall order.

What about grand jury testimony from 150 years ago given in a territorial court? Where there is no one involved that is still alive and thus no reputation harm or relation to other criminal cases? File suit, too? Or ask a modern court for an opinion and order?

1 Answer 1


There are a variety of exceptions, most of which are set forth in Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 6, linked in the question. But there is not some fixed period of time after which grand jury proceedings become public, and a grand jury proceeding does not automatically become public at the conclusion of the trials authorized by its indictments.

From a policy perspective, one concern is that there might be a confidential informant who testifies in many grand jury proceedings in only loosely related cases, for example, in an extended organized crime investigation, whose identities should not be revealed publicly. Another concern is that testimony about someone related to charged upon which they were not indicted might be revealed, thereby harming the reputation of that basically exonerated individual.

Grand jury proceedings in pre-statehood territories do not become public once some or all of that territory becomes a state. From a practical perspective, almost everyone involved in all grand jury proceedings from any state other than Hawaii or Alaska is dead now, anyone involved in grand jury proceedings in Hawaii or Alaska who is still living would be elderly (witnesses would usually be in their 90s or older), and many territorial era grand jury records are now lost (transcripts would have, in any case, only been produced in the minority of cases where they were needed).

Of course, some court records are destroyed as a matter of course in connection with state and federal record retention policies, or are lost unintentionally due to fires, floods, etc. So, after a while, there may be no records of a particular grand jury proceeding which are left to keep secret.

  • Thanks! I added a followup as to how one might attempt to get copies of proceedings. Commented Jun 20 at 17:00
  • @BlueDogRanch I'll take a pass on part II of how to get it which is a mix of criminal procedure and library science.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 20 at 17:49

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