What IS a Grand Jury, anyway?

“A Grand Jury saw all the evidence and made its decision and therefore justice was served.”

I’m seeing that comment a lot today from people who clearly do not understand the difference between a Grand Jury and a jury.  And it clearly is shaping opinions in the wrong way.grand-jury

A jury is selected by a prosecutor and a defense attorney, who question each of them and have the right to remove any they think are possibly biased.  Then a trial that is open to the public is held. Both sides present evidence and witnesses and cross examine and challenge anything the other side does.  A judge is present to make sure it all runs fairly.  Both sides then give closing arguments summarizing their version of what happened.  And in order to find guilt, the jury needs  to be unanimous and convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

A Grand Jury is none of those things.  A Grand Jury is a group of citizens who have not been challenged or removed for possible bias.  A Grand Jury hearing is closed and secret and not open to the public.  The DA presents whatever evidence he or she wants to without the worry that a defense attorney may cross-examine his witnesses or challenge his evidence.  There is only one side presented.  There is no judge.  And then the only question the jurors have is whether there is enough evidence to send it to a real jury to determine guilt or innocence.

That is a very low burden to meet, which is why 99.99999% of all Grand Juries result in an indictment.

It would be much better if we didn’t call these things Grand Juries, because people hear “jury” and they think “trial.”  There is no trial in a Grand Jury.

I’ve had to defend cases with much less evidence than existed in the Ferguson case. I agree that there was a lot of contradicting testimony but that just means we probably should have a jury hear it all and decide what to believe. Instead, the DA made up his mind and told the jury that we didn’t know so they shouldn’t indict. That’s not how it works!

Seriously, watch the DA’s press conference — he practically admitted that he acted as judge and jury, decided there wasn’t good evidence, and then told the Grand Jury what to do.  Give me a Grand Jury and let me present only the evidence and witnesses I want to without anyone contradicting me and I can get them to go the exact opposite way, I promise you.

President of the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (and friend) Jim Swetz pointed this out:  Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

So for the DA not to get an indictment pretty much means he had no intention of getting one — making the whole thing a bit of a sham, done so he can fool people who don’t understand what a Grand Jury is to think that “justice was done.”

The real problem once again (I sound like a broken record) is voting. Ferguson is majority black and most of them never vote. Just like how the US is majority Democrat and we don’t vote. And then we get stuck with a government that does not represent the majority of the people. It’s our fault.




7 thoughts on “What IS a Grand Jury, anyway?

  1. You know, if this had been anything else other than a nationally-charge white cop on black perpetrator case, this wouldn’t even have gone to the grand jury. The prosecutor would have chosen to not press charges and that would be that. It doesn’t sound like like it SHOULD have gone to trial instead of a grand jury. It sounds like it shouldn’t even have been presented to a grand jury, and even pursuing the case was political pandering. There should have been no action taken after the initial investigation determined that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Officer Wilson. I mean, geez, the guy had to kill someone defending his life while on duty, and we put him through this crap? THAT is what is wrong with this case.


      • Well then, no one should ever say anything because know one truly knows anything. Oh well. I used the words ‘sounds like’ a lot, because no, I don’t know FOR SURE – no one does. Just saying that compared to other cases, this one APPEARS to have been treated differently, and it didn’t APPEAR to warrant the different treatment.


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  3. A trial would have helped solve that problem, Dan.

    Instead, the government investigated the government and decided the government did nothing wrong. Seems like you, of all people, would object to that.

    I do not have enough information to decide if the officer was guilty. But I certainly believe there is enough evidence out there to have a trial about it.


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