Twelve people will be deciding–in secret–what the direction should be of the Michael Brown case. It’s time for a course called Grand Jury 101: How and Why of a grand jury.
The American justice system has two ways of determining if a criminal case has a legal basis for going forward. A preliminary hearing leaves the decision to a judge who hears arguments and possibly witnesses from both sides. The decision in a grand jury proceeding is made by 12 people, nine of whom have to agree on a charge. The grand jury is a prosecutor’s tool. A defense attorney is not allowed in the room.
Veteran criminal defense attorney J. R. Hobbs, who also teaches criminal trial techniques at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, says a grand jury gives the prosecutor an early advantage because the counsel for a potential defendant is not able to cross examine or make points on an issue. In a grand jury proceeding, only the prosecutor and grand jurors are present.
He says grand jury proceedings are secret because the grand jury might hear a lot of things that won’t be heard in court, that might just be wrong, and might be enough to damage a person’s reputation if they are not enough to merit an indictment.