People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Oregon Prosecutors Call the Shots During Grand Jury Hearings
Oregon defense attorneys, alarmed that several county prosecutors were conducting "off-the- record" grand jury briefings by experts--including police detectives-- filed motions for dismissal of 300 criminal cases pending in Josephine County's Circuit Court. The briefings were being held largely in drug cases, but in cases of sexual abuse and domestic violence as well.
On May 30, Benton County Judge Robert Gardner ruled the "orientations" improper, but ordered only twelve cases of child sexual abuse to be re-heard. The public defenders will appeal to the State Supreme Court (Oregonian, May 31).
The grand jury system is problematic to begin with. The process is all about the prosecution: No defense attorneys allowed, no testimony by the suspect. Only the prosecution gets to present its case. The proceeding is unrecorded and closed to the public.
Criminal defense attorneys claim that the prosecutors' "orientations" amount to nothing less than indoctrination which prejudice the jury. The "experts," including narcotics detectives and family therapists, are never sworn in during their presentations, and sometimes return before the same jury as witnesses.
A more typical example of grand jury orientation is practiced in Washington County by District Attorney Bob Hermann, who lets potential jurors know: "when jurors meet and how often, what is expected of jurors, the laws governing grand juries, courthouse procedure and what kinds of cases jurors may hear" (Oregonian, February 19).
Defense attorneys have taken their protest one step further by introducing "grand jury legislation that would require recordings of all proceedings; inform grand jurors of their rights to call witnesses, see evidence and indict on lesser charges; notify subpoenaed witnesses who are investigatory targets; and prohibit prosecutors from introducing unconstitutionally obtained evidence." Gardner agreed in his finding that orientations should be recorded, requesting standards be adopted for grand juries, and outlawing "special orientations."
In Oregon, the grand jury consists of seven citizens who decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to bring a person alleged to have committed a crime to trial.
The grand jury systems in Clatsop, Marion, Douglas, Deschutes and Jackson Counties include "orientations" similar to Josephine County's (Oregonian, March 24).
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