By Scott Galindez, Reader Supported News
17 January 15
ost Americans have heard of grand jury indictments, but few Americans really know what happens behind the closed doors of a grand jury. Unfortunately, I do.
It was during the first war with Iraq. I was arrested with a few other friends, drumming in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. Two of the friends arrested were a couple who were participating in the 24-hour antinuclear vigil. After being arrested, we were loaded onto a US Park Police paddy wagon and transported to the Haines Point substation. Diana was the first person taken off the paddy wagon and I could hear her screaming: “You’re hurting me … stop, you’re hurting me.”
The next person taken out of the vehicle was her boyfriend, Brett. I could hear him saying, “Stop, what are you doing to her?!” Diana was no longer in my view, but I saw Brett taken down to the ground.
A few weeks later I received a subpoena to testify before a grand jury. Brett was accused of felony assault for spitting on an officer. I did not see him spit, but the prosecutor was not accepting that. He grilled me, shouting at me, telling me that I was too close to not see it and that he could have me charged with perjury if I didn’t tell the truth. I thought, what if I weren’t an activist, what if I didn’t know Brett? Would I lie to save my own butt from this crazy prosecutor? I didn’t back down, I told the truth: I didn’t witness the spitting.
My guess is most Americans believe a grand jury is similar to any other court proceeding. They would be wrong. There is no judge present in a grand jury. There is also no defense attorney, or even an attorney to advise the witness. It is fully the prosecutor’s show. The prosecutor can orchestrate the proceeding to achieve the result he seeks. New York judge Sol Wachtler once famously said that a grand jury could “indict a ham sandwich.”
I hear you: if it’s so easy for the prosecutor to get an indictment, why is it so rare for the police to be indicted? How about the fact that they work together? A defense attorney hires a private investigator to research his case. A prosecutor uses the police to investigate his. I don’t like the system, period – but one reform that would help is if a private attorney were hired as a special prosecutor in cases involving police officers.
Ironically, grand jury secrecy was intended to keep the England monarchy from abusing the system. The result has been abuse by prosecutors. I understand the need for an investigation to be conducted without knowledge of the defendant. The main justification for using grand juries is so the defendant will not know about the proceedings and flee prosecution. However, if 28 states no longer use grand juries and do just fine with preliminary hearings, then why can’t the rest of the country?
Grand juries have become a practice run for the prosecution. I understand that an indictment is not a conviction, but how many of you would want your name in the news as indicted by a grand jury? Grand juries are also used to investigate political organizations. Remember that prosecutor that threatened me with perjury charges? Let’s say he threatened Jane Doe with perjury charges if she didn’t admit that John Doe said he planned to start a riot. He couldn’t do that in a preliminary hearing, the judge would shut him down.
It’s time to end secrecy and shine a light on the actions of our prosecutors. In 2015, the only reason to continue grand juries is if the justice system has something to hide.