With an impending Grand Jury being impaneled with regards to the Russian mishagoss in the Presidential Election of 2016, I think we are a tad confused as to what Grand Jury's do and don't. And I point to the ones that have been used in Ferguson among other cities where investigations about Police Shootings have often failed to find reason behind the charges and if they are to be filed.
Not every City, State or Jurisdiction uses Grand Juries and in turn we often confuse what the purpose of Jury is when it seems that most of them are often ignorant or in turn clearly selected with an intent or bias firmly in place. That can be determined by the Color of the skin of the Juror, their Gender, their Income/Job and any other factor to determine what compromises a peer in the community. And at times they seem anything but a peer and that is also the point and purpose. And when all else fails ensure that Jury Instructions place clear handcuffs on their ability to debate and discuss the outcome and even go the route of jury nullification to question the crime in the first place. Hence the hung juries.
I put this article below to explain that the idea of a Jury is a great idea on paper and in turn supposedly stops a maniac Prosecutor from filing egregious charges when alternative measures could be pursued. But really? God no. The Prosecutor and the Judge hold the cards the Jury are the people at the table that sit by and wait for the cards to be dealt and see who gets to 21. House rules and in turn as they say in Vegas - the House always wins.
Nashville's grand jurors questioned their own impartiality. Here's why.
Dave Boucher and Stacey Barchenger, The Tennessean Published July 28, 2017
Grand juries: How they work
Here's what you need to know about the composition and role of grand juries that meet in Nashville, Tennessee.
Over the course of four days in April, the 13 members of the Davidson County grand jury heard nine presentations from police and prosecutors.
A sergeant said domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. An officer reported drug-related impaired driving on the rise. Police Chief Steve Anderson lamented the size of his police force.
The jurors spent three additional days on field trips, visiting police and court programs. At the end of their service, they issued indictments in all but two of more than 475 cases brought before them.
Those presentations, off-site excursions and high indictment rates have been the norm for more than two decades, according to a Tennessean review of public records.
But this session, the jurors raised concern.
"The grand jury should remain impartial and unbiased during its deliberations and the close relationship with police procedure and proceedings put that in jeopardy," the jurors wrote in their end-of-term report, filed this month.
Defense lawyers and legal scholars say the practice could lead law enforcement to have undue influence on a proceeding that is supposed to be impartial.
Jurors never heard from defense attorneys, advocates or anyone representing those accused of committing crimes. This approach felt one-sided and biased, the jurors said.
"The more we learn about implicit bias, the more concern I have about individuals being influenced in subtle ways by what they are hearing versus not hearing," Nashville Public Defender Dawn Deaner said.
"Police presenting things from their perspective could skew perceptions of crime in our community," she said.
Those who give the presentations say they've done so at the invitation of the grand jury and do so with the goal of educating the jurors, residents who may not have criminal justice experience.
A ham sandwich with a side of civics
Twelve Nashvillians make up the grand jury and serve for a term of three months. An additional juror serves as the foreman, and can deliberate in some circumstances. Witnesses, often police, present cases where they believe a crime has been committed.
It's the jury's job to determine whether there is probable cause to charge a person in the form of an indictment, though they can also consider other issues.
It's exceptional when they say no charges are warranted. In the last decade, less than 2 percent of the more than 28,000 cases presented to the grand jury did not result in indictment, according to a Tennessean review.
Historically, grand juries were seen as injecting an impartial community voice into the criminal justice system. But they've been criticized as a rubber stamp for prosecutors. (Thirty years ago, a New York judge famously said prosecutors could influence grand juries to indict a ham sandwich.)
Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn Funk, who like his predecessors regularly speaks to the grand jury, tells jurors they are a check on the power of his office.
"The grand jury is a shield for citizens, not a sword," Funk is quoted in the most recent grand jury report.
Assistant prosecutors are only involved to coordinate police and other grand jury witnesses and submit draft indictments of what they think the right charges are, he said.
"We have no objection to any grand jury hearing from any group," Funk said. "They are independent from the district attorney."
Between the sword and the shield
The 12 jurors that met most recently, in the April to June term, held that independence paramount.
"While there is a value in general for all citizens to know how police officers are trained at the academy, or how the police department meets weekly to review complicated crime statistics and report on progress, or how Nashville has a drug court that is a model program with a national reputation, there is concern by some of us that these site visits run the risk of biasing the grand jury and compromising its independence," the report states.
A Tennessean review of 90 publicly available grand jury reports dating back to 1993 shows this grand jury's experience is not unique. The panels routinely cite the sessions from police and prosecutors as the basis for their understanding of the law and how they should do their jobs as jurors.
"These are all valuable things and things that we should be aware of, but not when we’re deciding to bring the weight of a government down on someone to put them in a cage for a long time or execute them, in some cases," said Josh Spickler, a Memphis defense attorney and founder of Just City, a Memphis-based criminal justice reform group.
Susan Brenner, a professor at University of Dayton School of Law in Ohio, specializes in grand juries and reviewed the eight-page grand jury report.
While she said she did not think the police presentations were intended to influence the jury, she said they likely had an impact and were not necessary.
Officers building a rapport with grand jurors could subtly influence deliberations, she said, offering as a solution that a defense lawyer should also hold a session.
And the average resident has some understanding of issues such as domestic violence, enough to consider cases, she said.
"They’re not charged with tackling the problem of domestic violence," she said. "They’re considering a set of facts. Someone did something to somebody else and they have to decide on that."
Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron said presentations and site visits are done at the request of "grand jury representatives," which he said could be the foreman, court staff or prosecutors who act at the request of jurors.
He said officers and the chief will continue the presentations when they are asked to do so, providing expert knowledge that helps the grand jury understand and stay up to date on current issues.
"Likewise," he said in an email, "understanding how officers are trained to enforce the laws that grand jurors consider throughout their terms would also seem to be beneficial."
A proposed fix
The April-June grand jury did not ask, in its report, that police presentations end. Instead, they suggested hearing from a civil rights attorney and community leaders who can speak to "ethnic, racial and cultural differences."
Deaner, the public defender, said she had been aware for years that police were speaking before the grand jury. But she said secrecy that surrounds the process prevented her from asking to join in.
She will ask that her office give a presentation, too, "so we can speak to the challenges criminal defendants, the vast majority who are poor, face in the criminal justice system."
By the numbers:
For Davidson County grand juries since Jan. 1, 2007:
28,862 indictments issued
363 issued a "no true bill," declining to bring charges
12 people serve as jurors
6 criminal court judges in Nashville oversee the grand jury
1 additional person serves as foreman, who can vote in some circumstances