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For NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, who struck and killed fellow race-car driver Kevin Ward Jr. in August, his future in criminal court lies in the hands of a New York grand jury.
Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo announced this week that his office would be submitting the case to a grand jury "in the near future," reports The New York Times. The grand jury's determination could mean the difference between a murder indictment and avoiding criminal charges altogether.
So what should NASCAR fans know about this grand jury announcement?
Details Still Sketchy
Although prosecutors will eventually be presenting Tony Stewart's case to the grand jury, no one is quite sure what the Ontario County DA's plans are. In preparing their case for the grand jury, prosecutors may choose to focus more on an indictment for second degree murder or a lesser charge like involuntary manslaughter.
While prosecutors can choose to be more or less hawkish in their presentation to the grand jury, ultimately it is up to the grand jurors to decide whether any indictments will follow.
In addition, when the grand jury begins hearing evidence, the proceedings will almost certainly be kept secret, with no information being released until the grand jury comes to a decision. The only thing we can be sure of is that the grand jury is tasked with determining if there is a minimum level of evidence, i.e. probable cause, to support criminal charges against Stewart for Ward's death.
What If There's No Indictment?
After Stewart's case is presented to a grand jury, it's possible that they may return with no indictments. Also called a "no-bill," this wouldn't mean that Stewart would be free from future charges. It's possible for a grand jury to "no-bill" a case once and then indict a defendant the second time around.
NBC Sports reports that's what initially happened in Adrian Peterson's child abuse case, and he's now been indicted. The decision to pursue charges after a grand jury fails to indict doesn't violate double jeopardy -- dropping charges isn't the same thing as an acquittal.
If Indicted, Then Trial to Follow
If Stewart is indicted on any charges, he will eventually be held to trial for Ward's death, assuming he doesn't accept a plea bargain before then.