Friday, December 5, 2014

Time to Thank and Excuse the Grand Jury?


This is the first time I have ever agreed with race-baiter Al Sharpton. He says we should eliminate the grand jury system in America.

I agree with him up to a point, but not for the reasons he states.

Predicable Al wants to do away with grand juries because he believes they always let white cops off for killing black people. Without a nuanced thought in his head, he lumps together and cites the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City, deaths similar in one respect: a black suspect was killed by a white cop.

Abolishing the grand jury would be a radical leap, given its rich history in English and American law.

The grand jury bears the name because it generally has more members than a 12-person trial jury, sometimes up to 23 lay members. Such juries of folks were first used in the 12th century in Henry II’s England, wherein a body of men was empaneled from time to time to report on criminal activity in the shire. Thereafter ingrained in common law the grand jury system followed colonists to America, where, ever since, its legal sanctity and secrecy have been stingily protected by the United States Supreme Court. (Mr. Sharpton probably thinks President Obama can eliminate grand juries with a stroke of his pen.)

I said I agreed with Al Sharpton up to a point. That’s because grand juries shouldn’t be abolished. They should be curtailed. When it comes to criminal matters they should only investigate government corruption. The Founding Fathers would smile on that. Why should all other criminal matters be stripped from the grand jury?

Simply put, modern grand juries let prosecutors skate in politically charged cases, such as when white cops kill unarmed black suspects. That’s what happened in Ferguson and in New York, in the Brown and Garner cases. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch and New York District Attorney Daniel Donovan shirked their public responsibility by asking grand juries to decide these cases. They knew the cases were politically charged, with perceived racial overtones. In each case the prosecutor could have taken action on his own, exercised his prosecutorial discretion and filed criminal charges against the white policeman or, alternatively, explained publicly why he decided not to.

But, neither McCulloch nor Donovan did either. Instead, each ran to a grand jury for political cover.

The modern grand jury system has become an expedient way for elected district attorneys to pass the political heat of controversial cases to plain folks who sit on grand juries. Once the jury makes its decision, especially if they exonerate a white cop, the prosecutor holds up his clean palms in “hands up, don’t shoot” fashion and proclaims, “It’s the grand jury’s decision, not mine.” You see, such disclaimers make running for re-election smoother, and after all, it’s all about being re-elected, isn’t it? Running for grand jury cover simply uncovered McCulloch’s and Donovan’s cowardice.

Listen, we pay top prosecutors hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to do one of two things: either charge people with crimes or tell us why not. Prosecuting Attorney McCulloch and District Attorney Donovan should have had the cojones to say why there was insufficient cause (or evidence) to charge the white officers with crimes. Obviously they suspected it was insufficient – that’s why they took cover in the grand jury in the first place, to deflect political repercussions.

Here is what bugs me the most about these prosecutorial wimps. By running to the grand jury in controversial cases district attorneys foist the political heat (and danger) off on regular men and women of all races, untrained in law, who are paid a per-diem pittance for their jury service and, who, once the jury’s decision is made public, live in fear that some violent dirt bag who loots and torches businesses and calls it First Amendment protest might learn their identity and seek them out for revenge. These pansy prosecutors should be ashamed.

There have been calls for “special prosecutors” to handle police-involved deaths, especially when white cops kill blacks. Mr. Sharpton wants the feds to take all such cases. The rap here is that regular, elected district attorneys are too cozy with cops to indict them. That’s hogwash. Voters will quickly send such puppet prosecutors to the unemployment line.

The real answer is to limit grand juries to investigations of criminal wrongdoing by bureaucrats, as well as their longstanding civil watchdog functions over government. Curtailing them will end prosecutor misuse of grand juries in most police department cases. That way district attorneys will be forced to earn their pay checks by exercising prosecutorial discretion even in criminal cases they find “too hot to handle.”
 
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