Hang on a minute, I need to indict someone

I Ham Sandwich

Would you like due process violations as your side or just some plain old cocaine?1

You know, when people usually say “hang on a minute”, you know that it’s going to take longer than a minute. It never takes a minute. Unless you’re a grand jury in North Carolina, that is. From the Charlotte Observer, via Andrew Cohen2:

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.

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  1. Image via.
  2. I love you Andrew Cohen.
  3. No wonder Connecticut prosecutors are pushing for a return to a modified grand jury system

11 thoughts on “Hang on a minute, I need to indict someone

  1. that anonymous coward

    Someone needs to slap that professor.
    There is no possible way they considered anything beyond the prosecutor saying the name.
    The system is broken when people just assume the prosecutor wouldn’t ask them to do it unless it was the right thing to do.

    Reply
    1. Piedmont Prosecutor

      Without the number of defendants, this is largely meaningless. At least where I am, most felony defendants come with more than one charge, and sometimes a dozen or more. How many questions does a grand jury need for “The defendant, an assistant manager, used the company credit card 25 times over a six-month period without authorization. Each one was for a felony-level amount of money. Here is a log from the credit card company, and here is the manager, saying the defendant did not have permission.? For “I pulled him over for suspected DUI, and on searching him at the jail, we found eight different types of illegal drugs and prescription medications that the defendant doesn’t have prescriptions for.”?

      If every case was a single act of securities fraud, then sure, a minute a case is unreasonable.

      Reply
  2. Bob Trobich

    Funny thing, a Mecklenburg Co. grand jury failed to indict the cop who shot Jonathan Ferrell 10 times. Of course, prosecutors brought it back to the next grand jury and they did indict. So, if you’re a cop, you might be a tuna sub as opposed to a ham sandwich.

    Reply
  3. Miranda

    Good point, Bob. We do need grand juries around to refuse to indict police. How else will prosecutors be able to claim they did all they could to stop rogue police?

    Reply
  4. Rob

    It’s not that Grand Juries have “outliv(ed) their utility,” but rather that the entire process has been corrupted and perverted to the point where they have become mere rubber stamps for professional prosecutors.

    Of course, it helps that the government took over “education,” resulting in generations of Americans being raised with no real understanding of their history or the principles of Liberty. The best way to control a population is to make them ignorant, and keep them unaware of their own ignorance.

    Reply
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