During a single four-hour workday last week, a Mecklenburg County grand jury heard 276 cases and handed down 276 indictments.
That means the 18 jurors heard evidence, asked questions, weighed whether the charges merit a trial, then voted on the indictments – all at the average rate of one case every 52 seconds.
You read something like that and you just have to laugh. You have to laugh because it’s so improbable and so absurd that it must be true and that it can only happen here, in these United States of America, the best country in the world with the best justice system in the world, because by God, we hate criminals.
In the time that it’s taken you to read this post so far, 3 people have gotten indicted by that careful, deliberative North Carolina grand jury. And another one. And another one. Mayhem!
There is no greater example of grand juries outliving their utility. It is inescapable that this grand jury did not perform its time honored-function of, as Andrew Cohen puts it:
preventing prosecutorial overreach. Long gone are the days (harkening back even before 1215 to Henry II and before him to William the Conqueror) where the honest, earnest, fair-minded citizens of a town would take the time to stand up and block an unjust prosecution against one of their own.
This is the fast-food grand jury, getting your burger and fries ready in the time that it takes you to drive from the ordering station around that infuriating tight bend to the window to pay for your unhealthy meal that you will gorge on and eventually die because of. A surprisingly apt metaphor for the American justice system.
There is no way that any of those people on that grand jury looked at any evidence presented to it with even a minuscule amount of skepticism. There simply wasn’t enough time. Keep in mind that the evidence presented to the grand jury is simply in the form of prosecution allegations. The accused aren’t allowed to be present and there are no lawyers to counter any of the allegations.
Do you trust such a body to decide whether there is enough evidence to prosecute you? And if the answer is that there’s no difference between that and a prosecutor who decides whether to file charges, then I ask you what the utility of the grand jury is?
The pushback against the abolition of grand juries is the same. As evidenced by this quote from this AP article:
But grand juries are important not because of all the times they indict defendants, but for the few times they don’t. That check forces prosecutors to show restraint, said former federal prosecutor and University of North Carolina law professor Richard Myers. “So if you ask me, I do believe in the institution of grand juries. Just as I believe in the value of a fire extinguisher,” he said.
Because grand juries, the argument goes, once in a while don’t side with the prosecution and reject a case, they have continuing utility.
This would be a good time to point out that in that 4 hour span, the Charlotte grand jury voted to indict all 276 defendants it was asked to. Each and every one.
The appeal of the grand jury to the government is obvious: you get to present your allegations to a group of civilians who aren’t in any way equipped to determine the veracity of the charges and who are most likely to side with you3.
While it may not seem troublesome to them, every American citizen should be horrified at the ingredients on the label of this ham sandwich.
- Image via. ↩
- I love you Andrew Cohen. ↩
- No wonder Connecticut prosecutors are pushing for a return to a modified grand jury system ↩