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Overhaul the grand jury system

Apr 23, 2009 Overhaul the grand jury system

Among my biggest complaints about the grand jury system — at least the way it is run on the federal level, which is similar to the way it is run in the state-level jurisdictions where I practice — is that the whole show is run by prosecutors without the presence of a judge, defense lawyers, and lawyers for those giving testimony. In the vast majority of instances, grand juries merely rubber stamp prosecutors’ proposed indictments.

As one or more of my other colleagues have said, a prosecutor can get an indictment of a plant. For me, such a statement is not only an indictment of the grand jury system as it currently exists, but also is an indictment of every prosecutor who guns for convictions rather than true justice.

On a recent listserv posting came news of a website entitled Grand Jury Resistance Project. Whereas my pet peeves with the criminal justice system focus on the rights of each individual, regardless of political or socioeconomic background, Grand Jury Resistance Project shouts out too monolithic a message of forgiving those who fight oppression, even if such fighters of oppression oppress along the way. Such a monolithic approach reminds me of Victor Hugo’s spectacular Bug Jargal, in which revolting slaves exact horrors as violent and ugly as did their slave masters, even if on a smaller scale, although no less violent and including against non-slaves who were not even slaveholders.

Grand Jury Resistance Project urges people to refuse to testify before grand juries. Granted, the Grand Jury Resistance Project is not necessarily a lawyers’ group. However, lawyers need to know of the risks they run to advise anybody other than a client not to testify before any tribunal.

In any event, Grand Jury Resistance Project‘s website does a service by helping to keep challenges to the grand jury system active, and reminds people of the rampant rights violations continuing right through today from the United States’ overgrown and overly unjust police/national security state. 

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