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It's been more than a month since an accident involving Tony Stewart claimed the life of Kevin Ward Jr. at a race track in Ontario County, N.Y. In that time, Stewart has returned to driving in NASCAR. A police investigation into the event has concluded, and on Tuesday came the news that Stewart's case has been referred to an Ontario County grand jury. Here are answers to the most common questions surrounding Stewart's impending grand jury hearing.
What has happened from the time of the Ontario County police's investigation until now?
In the wake of the incident, Ontario County police maintained that there was nothing in their initial investigation to indicate that Kevin Ward Jr.'s death was anything more than a tragic accident.
As Donald G. Rehkopf, Jr., a criminal defense attorney with the Rochester, N.Y. firm of Brenna, Brenna & Boyce told Yahoo Sports, there were basically two options at that point: the police could have filed the charges themselves, or they could have taken the case to the Ontario County district attorney, who would then turn the case over to the grand jury.
The grand jury then has three options: a felony indictment, a misdemeanor indictment, or a "no-bill," in which no charges are filed against Stewart because the grand jury could not find evidence of criminal intent.
Is this a bad sign for Stewart?
It's neither a bad sign nor a good sign; it's the expected course of action. Referring the case to the grand jury is "not overly surprising," Rehkopf said, adding that he "would not infer anything" from the D.A.'s decision. Rehkopf noted that Ontario County's district attorney has a history of referring cases with a "hint of a possibility" of criminal charges to the grand jury.
"And that's not necessarily a bad thing," Rehkopf added. "From a broader societal perspective, this allows the grand jury, on behalf of the people, to say 'we do' or 'we do not believe there was criminal intent.'"
Will Stewart be involved in the case?
Stewart does not have to be involved in the grand jury testimony. However, New York is one of the few states that allows a defendant to testify at grand jury proceedings, depending on the facts of the case and the defense's strategy.
What is the procedure for the grand jury?
A member of the district attorney's office will consider the report and may focus on certain charges when making recommendations to the grand jury. The grand jury is, however, free to accept or reject the D.A.'s recommendations. A judge will supervise the proceedings from a legal perspective.
A simple majority of the 23-member grand jury must decide that the incident met the standard of probable cause for a crime.
When will we hear the grand jury's verdict?
Grand juries run for 30-day terms, releasing their findings during and after the conclusion of their terms. Rehkopf said it's likely this grand jury was impaneled the Tuesday after Labor Day, meaning we will likely hear the grand jury's decision of indictment or no-bill in the next couple weeks. However, since grand jury proceedings are confidential, the actual date could be somewhat further in the future.