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Indybay Feature
Mon Oct 6 2008
What You Should Know About Grand Juries
An article by Katya Komisaruk of the Just Cause Law Collective
Grand juries are one of the good intentions paving the road to our current legal system. Unlike a trial jury, which decides whether a suspect is guilty, a grand jury merely decides whether there’s probable cause to prosecute a suspect on felony charges. The goal was to create a filter to catch unjustified felony cases and stop them at an early stage, so that the suspect wouldn’t be wrongfully prosecuted (and have to spend unnecessary time in jail and unnecessary money on lawyers). But it all went very wrong.

Defense attorneys aren’t even allowed in same room as the grand jury, let alone permitted to put on defense witnesses, question the prosecution witnesses, or make any statements to the jurors. So grand juries nearly always just “rubber stamp” the cases brought before them. For example, in fiscal year 2000, federal grand juries voted to indict a total of 59,472 suspects and chose not to indict 29 suspects—only one out of every 2,000 suspects was left un-indicted. An additional factor in grand juries’ unwholesome compliance with prosecutorial plans is the frequent lack of diversity among the jurors.

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