NY's top judge believes that the judiciary should play a greater role in the grand jury process when police are accused of killing a civilian. I personally think that grand jurors should be provided their own counsel.
Apparently one of the Ferguson, Missouri grand jurors who heard evidence about the killing of Michael Brown by law enforcement wants to talk about the case but can't without violating the law. Thus, this former grand juror with the help of the ACLU has filed a lawsuit (Grand Juror Doe v. Robert McCullough) against the local prosecutor. According to the lawsuit, the grand juror seeks a declaratory judgment that Missouri's laws criminalizing speech by the grand juror about his/her experience is unconstitutional.
Like most states that use the grand jury, Missouri prohibits grand jurors from talking about evidence heard by the grand jury. Historically, grand jurors were prevented from disclosing evidence in order to maintain secrecy of the investigation and to protect the privacy of those who appeared before the grand jury but were never charged with a crime.
Here is the Missouri statute on the topic.
540.320. No grand juror shall disclose any evidence given before the grand jury, nor the name of any witness who appeared before them, except when lawfully required to testify as a witness in relation thereto; nor shall he disclose the fact of any indictment having been found against any person for a felony, not in actual confinement, until the defendant shall have been arrested thereon. Any juror violating the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
The history of the Grand Jury in the Anglo-American legal system is briefly sketched in the context of its role as an arbiter of control of police violence and illegal behavior. The nature of charging of police with crimes associated with shooting civilians, especially minorities and the ethnic and gender makeup of Grand Juries is considered as a factor. The cost of liability to cities from police shoots is addressed in the context of the benefits of professional police services versus alternatives.
In light of the recent negative attention received by grand juries, there has been a call by some to abolish them. While states are not required by the U.S. Constitution to use a grand jury, the federal government is. Thus, absent amending the constitution, always a dangerous proposition, grand juries must be used for all felony crimes unless the defendat waives his right to a grand jury.
Rather than abolish grand juries, I think we should work on improving them. For example, I have long advocated giving grand jurors their own legal advisor.
In light of the fact that the Ferguson grand jury is likely to render its decision in the near future, I thought I would offer some links to sources that provide background information on grand juries.
As of late, Texas grand juries have been under a lot of criticism so much so that State Senator John Whitmire has introduced legislation (SB 135) to modify how grand jurors are selected. If SB 135 becomes law, district judges would select grand jury panels instead of a commissioner. Many felt that the panels selected by commissioners were too homogeneous.
Most of us are aware of social media's influence on petit jurors. Who hasn't heard about attorneys using social media to investigate jurors or jurors using social media to contact each other or third parties? What is less known is the influence of social media on grand jurors. This is due primarily to the fact that grand jurors are sworn to secrecy. Thus, little is known about what happens once those grand jury doors are closed.
Well, it appears everything that occurs in the grand jury room does not necessarily stay in the grand jury room. There are media reports that one grand juror leaked information about the current Ferguson, Missouri investigation. This leaked information (not enough evidence to indict the police officer) was subsequently tweeted before being taken down. However, we all know that once something is put out on social media it is next to impossible to complete remove it.