The Grand Jury System Needs Reform -
But it's Not What You Think -
10 Questions that Reveal the Problems
Since the grand jury verdicts in both #Ferguson and NYC made national headlines where decisions were made not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively, we've heard lots of complaints about the Grand Jury.
I believe we need to be extra careful as even my Dad recently sent me a text warning of an upcoming attack on We The People's most powerful tool to hold our government accountable.
Well, the attack has already begun, and we better get ready.
Illogical and ill-informed arguments have a tendency to appeal to people's emotions. Do not fall prey, though, as they're rooted in elitism by those that don't believe in self-government. They're the ones who think you're unable to make decisions for yourself.
Yes, it's very true that the Grand Jury system needs reform, but we need to make sure we focus on the real issue and not eliminate the very institution the founders put in place to act as a "buffer or referee between the Government and the people." More on that quote later.
We Do Not Have To Wait For Elections To Hold Our Government Accountable!
Inspired by the Magna Carta 800 years ago and successfully used for centuries under Common Law in England as well as for decades into our nation's founding, the grand jury is the very tool the founders gave us to hold our government accountable on a daily basis.
But are they? The sad answer is no, and there's a reason.
Grand Juries today have no idea of their true potential, and I believe they've been hijacked.
An honest look at these 10 questions should reveal the problems with today's statutory puppet grand juries:
- What is the purpose of the grand jury?
- Who invented the concept of the grand jury?
- From where does the grand jury get its authority?
- Who sits on a grand jury and how are they selected?
- Who calls a grand jury together?
- What instructions are they given?
- Do all cases go before a grand jury?
- Who controls the grand jury proceedings?
- If a prosecutor brings a case before a grand jury, is the grand jury restricted to considering only the evidence brought forth by the prosecutor and limited to only considering the charges suggested by the prosecutor?
- How independent is a grand jury? Can they investigate criminal activity on their own initiative? Or are they restricted to only that which a prosecutor brings forth?
Answering these questions will tell you all you need to know about what's wrong with our current statutory puppet grand juries.
Considering the outcome of the grand jury decision in NY not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the choking death last July of Eric Garner, even though the world got to see exactly what happened via cell phone video, here's what I want to know:
- How was the Grand jury selected? Who picked them, and what filter did they use to get the jurors they wanted?
- Was the grand jury in NY restricted to look at only specific evidence presented by the prosecutor?
- Was the grand jury in NY limited to only consider the charges suggested by the prosecutor?
- Was the grand jury informed as to how independent they should act in pursuing and investigating evidence and making sure the right charges are applied as necessary?
Journalist Edward Jay Epstein, who served for one month on a NY grand jury in 2000, provided this insight in his writing, Thirty Days On The Grand Jury:
"More importantly, even though the Grand Jury, through its inquisitory powers, is supposed to be the "exclusive judge of the facts", there is a Catch-22. It is not allowed to directly question witnesses. When a grand juror wants to ask a question, he must call over the prosecutor, and ask him to relay his question to the witness. The prosecutor may ignore or disregard the question if he judges it irrelevant. Prosecutors, in other words, are not obliged to ask Grand Jurors' questions that may elicit answers that confuse their case with what they consider irrelevant information. Since they, and they alone, are the judge of what is relevant, the supposedly-independent inquisition does not have independent means to question the prosecution's case."
I believe the old adage that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich, and I'd like to offer that a prosecutor can sandbag an indictment, as well.
But keep this in mind: the knee-jerk reaction by some in the media and the progressive blogosphere is that we need to do away with the grand jury system as a whole.
This could not be farther from the truth. We'll explore more about the solution(s) in upcoming articles.