Thursday, December 11, 2014


In these times of trouble it is obvious that most do not understand the function of a Grand Jury or the role of the Prosecutor especially related to a Grand Jury.

My concept is obviously not from a background of a legal training so that there may be some errors of opinion which I would welcome correction.

First of all we should know a little about the Grand Jury and how it differs from the Petite Jury.  The name s come from the number of members of the Jury. Most Grand Juries consists from 12 to 23 citizens; the number on a Petite Jury varies in different jurisdictions but is 11 or less.

A Petite Jury’s role is to judge criminal or tort cases. The Grand Jury can function as an accusatory or investigative body. The “investigative function include obtaining and reviewing documents as well as other evidence and hearing sworn  testimony from witnesses.

Its accusatory function is to determine if a “crime” has been commuted in the jurisdiction. It is obvious that the Grand Jurors can do no better than interpret all the substance presented to them by the Prosecutor.

A bit of history is important. The earliest incidents of a “Grand Jury’ goes back to Henry II of England in 1166. This was in an attempt to enforce the “King’s Law” and break the feudal COURTS. The judges were on a circuit and would appear once a year in a jurisdiction.  In each shire a group of important men were bound to report any crimes that had occurred during that year.

Over centuries the concept expanded to other countries but today the United States is the only nation that still employs it.
All States have provisions for the Grand Jury but at present only 22 require their use.

This is why Grand Juries became part of the justice system in the US.
"In the early decades of the United States grand juries played a major role in public matters. During that period counties followed the traditional practice of requiring all decisions be made by at least twelve of the grand jurors, (e.g., for a twenty-three-person grand jury, twelve people would constitute a bare majority). Any citizen could bring a matter before a grand jury directly, from a public work that needed repair, to the delinquent conduct of a public official, to a complaint of a crime, and grand juries could conduct their own investigations.
In that era most criminal prosecutions were conducted by private parties, either a law enforcement officer, a lawyer hired by a crime victim or his family, or even by laymen. A layman could bring a bill of indictment to the grand jury; if the grand jury found there was sufficient evidence for a trial, that the act was a crime under law, and that the court had jurisdiction, it would return the indictment to the complainant. The grand jury would then appoint the complaining party to exercise the authority of an attorney general, that is, one having a  
to represent the state in the case.
The grand jury served to screen out incompetent or malicious prosecutions.The advent of official public prosecutors in the later decades of the 19th century largely displaced private prosecutions." (Wikipedia)
The Grand Jury process is purely the Prosecutor’s show. The “accused” does not have the right to testify, the policeman’s testimony in the Gardner hearing is a rare occurrence. The prosecutor can get the desire result of an indictment by being selective about the material and witnesses the Jury hears, or he can perhaps intentionally confuse the issue by presenting an overwhelming witnesses and documentation.

In Missouri the Grand Jury heard a great deal of conflicting evidence that probably could not find convincing cause to indict the policeman. The do not find an accused guilty but only that there is a great possibility that there has been a crime and the Petite Jury will make the final verdict.

We must remember that when a Grand Jury does not return the result we want it is not a miscarriage of justice but a conclusion that a body of individuals reaches from all that they were given.

In the cases where a policeman is involved there can be a fault in the fact that the local prosecutor always has a close relationship with the police. That may be cause to appoint “special prosecutors” in those cases.

(Disclaimer: I am not saying that I agree  or disagree with the findings of the juries in these two cases. However especially in the Gardner case a Federal investigation if his civil rights were violated seems justified. By the tapes he did not receive standard emergency care when he stopped breathing.)

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