Grand juries and “citizen grand juries” are being used across the country for a variety of cases, despite the fact that the grand jury process is very flawed and many experts are calling for reform.
“Originally, grand juries were used to protect citizens from government prosecution, while now they essentially have the opposite effect,” stated Ellie Krieg in an A+ research paper written for Grand Valley State University.
In fact, the grand jury is “little more than a rubber stamp that would indict a ham sandwich if the prosecutor asked,” according to N Kuckes in a study written in the American Criminal Law Review.
“Some argue that reform is not necessary, but these people mostly include prosecutors and police, who claim that the system is not abused and it a helpful tool to solving crimes.”
What are the problems of a grand jury?
“The main complaint about grand juries is that they are used as a prosecutor’s tool,” stated Krieg. “Grand juries have unlimited subpoena power, and anyone who refuses to testify to a grand jury can be jailed.”
In addition, most court rules do not apply to grand jury proceedings. For example, hearsay and many other types of evidence that would not be allowed at trial are allowed in grand jury hearings. Also, defense attorneys are not allowed to object or question witnesses, and in federal grand jury proceedings, they are not even allowed to be present.
“The opportunity to bully, to harass, [and] to intimidate is surely present in the grand jury room” according to expert M.E. Frankel, M.E. in his book “The grand jury: An institution on trial.”
Are there local examples of grand jury abuse?
Krieg points out that the community of Highland, Michigan observed the grand jury process firsthand during the Jeffrey Pyne trial last year.
Pyne was indicted by a grand jury in Oakland County on counts of first-degree murder, despite the fact that there was no DNA evidence or murder weapon found. Pyne’s lawyer, overconfident of a jury victory during the trial, did not present any witnesses for Pyne.
After the verdict of second degree murder, jurors expressed regret after gaining knowledge of evidence that was not presented in the trial.
“It is likely that a trial would have never happened in the first place without the prosecutorial abuse of the grand jury proceedings,” stated Krieg. “Many of Jeffrey Pyne’s rights were taken away under the grand jury system, and now he is in prison for twenty to sixty years after the lack of a fair and speedy trial that he should have been allowed.”
The Jeffrey Pyne case is currently under appeal.
Here is the complete and unedited research paper regarding grand juries: Problems with the Grand Jury Process