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Grand Jury (Day 3) – Is it the truth?

July 21st, 2005 by dk

The grand jury’s job is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for a person to be charged with a felony. While the trial jury has the final say about guilt or innocence, the grand jury has the first say about whether a trial should take place at all. The grand jury hears only the prosecution’s side of the story; the defendant is not in the room and the witnesses are not cross-examined. If the grand jury judges a case to be “no true bill,” then charges are dropped. “True bill” requires five votes out of the seven paneled jurists.

Today I seemed to unnerve one of the prosecuting attorneys. I asked a bunch of questions (we’re forbidden to give details — only fair, since anyone involved may later be judged not guilty) about a particular crime. The attorney told us he was withdrawing his request for a vote, because he could see he may not have the five votes necessary for the case to proceed. “I may locate some additional evidence and bring this case back to you at a later time.”

Being curious about the process, I asked, “Wouldn’t it be a fair strategy for you to withdraw the case and then resubmit it four weeks from now when there’s a brand new grand jury — maybe a group without the same questions?”

He glowered. “What do you mean ‘strategy’? We’re here to get to the truth. There IS NO strategy.”

Bunk. He’s not paid for the truth. His job is to get convictions. I had a good friend who was a public defender. He never asked his clients if they did it. He just tried to get them acquitted; that was his job on the opposite side. The judge’s job is to make sure the contest follows the rules. It’s the (trial) jury who is charged with getting to the truth. That’s how the system is designed. And it works.

Most of the people we hear about are sad or stupid and it’s not hard to determine whether it should move forward or not. But 100% smooth would not be sign that the system is working. It’s the occasional hiccup that makes the rigamarole worth the time and trouble for all of us, including that glowering prosecutor.

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