Grand jury proceedings were originally designed to provide checks and balances against oppressive prosecution or potential witch hunts.
If passed, a proposal that’s currently before Texas lawmakers would make it mandatory for prosecutors to share evidence that could help a suspect’s case with grand juries. According to a Texas Tribune report, two versions of the same proposed law have been filed by both Democratic and Republican state lawmakers, meaning the bill has bipartisan support.
What Is a Grand Jury?
A grand jury differs from what people think of when they hear the term “jury trial.” When a grand jury is assembled, its function is only to determine if there is probable cause to believe an individual has committed a crime. If the grand jury finds there is probable cause it issues a formal charge, the indictment. Because a grand jury does not make an ultimate determination of guilt, the rules governing the process are much different than those in criminal prosecutions after the grand jury has returned an indictment.
Grand jury proceedings are not open to the public. This prevents people merely suspected of crimes from being publicly embarrassed by a disclosure that they are under investigation, and it aids law enforcement by not alerting suspects that they are under investigation.
Proposed Rule Change for Grand Jury Proceedings
According to one of the bill’s sponsors, grand jury proceedings were originally designed to provide “checks and balances against oppressive prosecution or potential witch hunts.” He claims that current rules and policies give prosecutors an “unfair advantage over the accused,” even in cases where the accused is innocent of any wrongdoing.
The bill would reform grand jury proceedings by requiring prosecutors to provide the grand jury not only with evidence that tends to establish the guilt of a suspect, but evidence that also tends to establish a suspect’s innocence.
Additionally, the proposed law would permit a suspect’s lawyer to be present during questioning and would stop prosecutors from going to a second grand jury if the first grand jury fails to indict.
The second proposed provision is designed to prevent instances of “double jeopardy,” according to a senior policy analyst with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He stated that if a case has already been investigated and a grand jury said there’s not enough evidence to indict, the prosecutor shouldn’t have an opportunity to shop around for a grand jury willing to do so, as that sort of behavior goes against the principle that an individual can’t be prosecuted twice for the same alleged criminal offense.
Bill Would Also Allow Suspects to Receive Evidence
Another part of the proposed law would permit suspects to receive evidence from the case upon request, however, they would not have access to any identifying information about witnesses or alleged victims. This section of the bill would give suspects the ability to begin building their defense prior to setting foot in a courtroom — an option they don’t have under current Texas grand jury rules.
Founding Partner/Former Assistant Federal Public Defender
Broden & Mickelsen, LLP
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