An ex­pla­na­tion of a grand jury panel

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - State News - By mark Gil­lispie

CLEVE­LAND » Grand ju­ries, pan­els of res­i­dents that de­cide if some­one should be charged with a crime, have been part of the Amer­i­can le­gal sys­tem since the coun­try was founded. De­fense at­tor­neys, bar as­so­ci­a­tions and, in­creas­ingly, ac­tivists say grand ju­ries have out­lived their use­ful­ness, es­pe­cially af­ter panel sin Mis­souri and New York voted not to in­dict po­lice of­fi­cers in fa­tal en­coun­ters with black men. Many states no longer use them and make prose­cu­tors de­cide whether some­one should be charged crim­i­nally.

Grand ju­ries are re­quired in Ohio, where one will de­cide if two white Cleve­land po­lice of f icers should be charged in the fa­tal shoot­ing of Tamir Rice, a black 12-year- old boy carr ying a pel­let gun.

Some ques­tions and an­swers about grand ju­ries:

Q What is a grand jury?

A The panel lis­tens to ev­i­dence pre­sented by prose­cu­tors, asks ques­tions if they choose and de­ter­mines if crim­i­nal charges are war­ranted and what those charges should be. To ob­tain an in­dict­ment, prose­cu­tors must con­vince grand ju­rors that it’s likely some­one has com­mit­ted a crime. That thresh- old, known as prob­a­ble cause, is less than what’s re­quired for a con­vic­tion, which is proof be­yond a rea­son­able doubt.

Q How do they work in Ohio?

A In Ohio, a grand jury is com­prised of nine ju­rors and as many as five al­ter­nates se­lected from county vot­ing rolls. Seven of the nine ju­rors must vote to in­dict. Cuya­hoga County, the state’s busiest Com­mon Pleas ju­ris­dic­tion with 12,000 new crim­i­nal cases filed last year, typ­i­cally has two or three grand ju­ries meet­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously twice a week for eight hours. A grand jury in a small county might only meet once a week for a few hours.

Q What do ju­rors see and hear?

A Prose­cu­tors con­trol what ev­i­dence grand ju­ries see and who tes­ti­fies be­fore them. In Cuya­hoga County, that ev­i­dence in most cases con­sists of a po­lice of­fi­cer read­ing from a re­port. Wit­nesses are some­times ques­tioned in more com­pli­cated cases. Prose­cu­tors aren’t re­quired to present any ev­i­dence that might be fa­vor­able to a sus­pect. Last year, Cuya­hoga County grand ju­ries in­dicted more than 11,000 peo­ple while vot­ing not to charge peo­ple 326 times.

Q Why are they se­cret?

A Grand jury se­crecy is rooted in English com­mon law dat­ing back cen­turies, though England stopped us­ing grand ju­ries in the 1930s. The pan­els are sup­posed to be se­cret to pro­tect the iden­ti­ties of grand ju­rors and al­low them to vote their con­science. It also pro­tects wit­nesses who might oth­er­wise be re­luc­tant to tes­tify and sus­pects whose rep­u­ta­tions could be sul­lied even if a grand jury votes not to in­dict them. Grand jury tran­scripts are sealed and are made pub­lic only in the rarest of cir­cum­stances. Grand ju­rors are not al­lowed to dis­cuss ev- idence or say how they’ve voted on a par­tic­u­lar case.

Q Why are they con­tro­ver­sial?

A Crit­ics say they are “rub­ber stamps,” which has led to the oftre­peated crit­i­cism that a grand jury could in­dict a ham sand­wich. The Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion main­tains that grand ju­ries, es­pe­cially at the fed­eral level, no longer pro­vide a safe­guard against gov­ern­ment over­reach. Skep­tics also say the se­crecy saps pub­lic con­fi­dence. The com­mon prac­tice is for prose­cu­tors to rec­om­mend charges af­ter ex­plain­ing the law to grand ju­rors.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.