Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Grand Jury

Today’s Charlotte Observer brings an eye-opening article—including quotes from Joe Cheshire and Jim Cooney—about the sorry nature of North Carolina’s grand jury system. An institution that supposedly protects the rights of the accused, Cheshire and Cooney both suggest, does no such thing.

The article focused on the case of Randall Kerrick, a North Carolina police officer who killed an unarmed, African-American man. A Mecklenburg County grand jury initially declined to indict Kerrick, but the attorney general (who’s prosecuting the case because of a conflict of interest in Charlotte) then took the case to a second grand jury, which returned an indictment for voluntary manslaughter.

The scandal came in the daily record for the grand jury that indicted Kerrick. That day, it heard 275 other cases, and returned indictments in all 275. In an interview with the paper, Cheshire termed the “entire system . . . a joke,” noting that “there is absolutely no living, breathing person with any kind of intellect who believes that a grand jury could consider and vote on 10 complex issues in the period of time that they use to deliberate on hundreds.” Cooney added that grand juries no longer protect the accused, but instead function by handing “out indictments like they’re boxes of popcorn.”

Cheshire also revealed some information about the lacrosse case grand jury, reporting that he had heard the body returned indictments—again, for a crime that never occurred, and in the police manufactured inculpatory evidence—in all of four minutes. ABC’s Law & Justice Unit had previously touched on some of the grand jury’s attitudes.

It’s worth recalling, moreover, that the grand jury that indicted Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty did so on the basis of false information. As former DPD Sgt. Mark Gottlieb confessed in his deposition for the Nifong ethics trial, he told the grand jury that Crystal Mangum never changed her story about the night of the party after she got to the hospital. In fact, the false accuser and now-convicted murderer never told the same story twice. What might have happened, for instance, if Gottlieb had told the grand jury that Mangum had identified four, rather than three, perpetrators in the rigged departmental photo array? Or if she twice claimed to have recognized a lacrosse player that wasn’t even at the party?

By the way, absent Gottlieb’s revelation, we never would have known the grand jury was presented with incorrect facts, since in North Carolina, there’s no record of what’s said to the grand jury.
The Observer also features UNC professor and former federal prosecutor Richard Myers, who said that he “believed” in the institution of a grand jury to protect citizens’ rights, just as he believed in the value of a fire extinguisher.

The comparison is hard to take seriously; indeed, two examples from the lacrosse case demonstrate how grand juries can actually harm the accused. First, if Mike Nifong hadn’t gone to the grand jury, he would have needed to pursue a probable cause hearing. And so, in the midst of the primary campaign for DA, grand jury secrecy prevented the public from knowing the weakness of the prosecutor’s case.

Second, the 4th Circuit panel used the excuse of the grand jury (operating from false information) indictment as one of the grounds for letting the city of Durham off the hook in the civil suit filed by the falsely accused players.

But apart from the specifics of the lacrosse case, grand juries can harm anyone who’s indicted, since too many people poorly understand the judicial system, and assume that a grand jury indictment implies guilt. Nonetheless, you’d expect a major newspaper—such as, for instance, The Guardian—to have a sense of what grand juries do. It appears not—as this item from Brad Bannon’s Tumblr reveals


Anonymous said...

I wonder why the faculty and students at Duke Law don't work for the reform of the NC grand jury system. ..It couldn't be because that would involve them in admitting the travesty that was the Duke lacrosse case (during which they were noticeably silent...)...

Anonymous said...

A piece of prior history of North Carolina:

Big Al

Anonymous said...

Do all states have a similar grand jury system? What a waste of money.
Just wondering.....

Anonymous said...

"Do all states have a similar grand jury system?"

At least in other states, transcripts are kept of grand jury proceedings. At present, in NC
a prosecutor can have witnesses say anything (including lies) to the jurors,
and there will be no record kept of it.

Secondly, in almost all other states, a person indicted by a grand jury still has the right to a probable cause hearing--to challenge the evidence. In North Carolina, if you are indicted by the Grand Jury, you forfeit that right.

Nifong delayed arresting any one in the lax case for two weeks, so he could have a grand jury indict them instead--thus foreclosing their ability to present their evidence of innocence to the court. And, of course, no records were kept of what was said to the jurors.

NC desperately needs some basic--BASIC--reforms; but
no one (and no one at Duke Law) appears interested in protecting the rights of accused persons...

Anonymous said...

So who are the people on the jury in a Grand Jury in NC and in Durham? If they are judges, wouldn't that create a bias of opinion when trying the case before any judge thereafter, since their minds are already set in a direction of guilt before being proven innocent?

Anonymous said...

"If they are judges"

They aren't judges; they're just ordinary jurors--often older people because they have the time to sit on a grand jury.

Anonymous said...

A Duke Freshman is posting on Huffington Post about her experiences tenting for basketball games:

Reading it, it seems clear how much the gang of 88 has ruined her life.

Anonymous said...

Has it been snowing in Durham?

JohnC said...

The best observation I can think of is paraphrased from Political Correctness Watch by John Ray:

“American “liberals” often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. Their only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is currently limited by the Constitution. To see what they WOULD be like with real power, look to where they ARE already powerful: in America’s educational system — particularly its universities and colleges. There they show the same regard for free-speech and individual rights that Stalin did: Zero.
So, look to higher education to see what America would be like if “liberals” had their way. It would be consumed by nightmarish tyranny.”

Anonymous said...

Not to mention condoned abuses of the vilest and most harmful kind supported by these educational institutions incorporated in the name of deceitful god-is-us coverups and corrupted injustice to retain, maintain, and increase their power over others and their subjects.