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An indictment is merely an accusation delivered by a sham grand jury proceeding

Jul 30, 2009 An indictment is merely an accusation delivered by a sham grand jury proceeding

Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

An indictment is merely an accusation delivered by an unfairly slanted grand jury proceeding. The least that prosecutors can do is to clearly acknowledge that indictments are no more than that.

Both under the current and prior presidential administrations, the United States Justice Department has issued a flurry of press releases about federal prosecutions, convictions, sentences, and even acquittals (see additional acquittal press releases here).

Fortunately, many Justice Department press releases about indictments remind readers that the defendant is presumed innocent, including this line from a Justice Department press release that a listserv member recently posted: “An indictment is merely an accusation. All defendants are presumed innocent of the charges and it is the government’s burden to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.”

A Google search found the foregoing precise phrase in six Justice Department press releases. I like that phrase better than the footnote used by the E.D. Pa. United States Attorney’s Office, which omits confirmation that the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. These Justice Department press releases about a Tampa indictment and Hawaii indictment use language somewhere in the middle of the foregoing two sets of press releases.

This Justice Department press release about an Ohio indictment is silent about the presumption of innocence, hopefully inadvertently so.

I urge prosecutors to clam up about announcing indictments unless they underline that an indictment is merely an accusation returned by a grand jury that only hears the prosecution’s version of alleged events, without hearing from the other side’s advocate, and, at least in the jursdictions where I practice, without a judge present, and allowing a subpoenaed suspect’s lawyer to get no closer to the grand jury room than the hallway. Jon Katz.

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