News Release ~ 11/10/2011

America’s Grand Jury System: A Blueprint for Reform

Washington, DC (November 10, 2011) – NACDL today releases a groundbreaking new report on restoring and reforming the grand jury system-- Evaluating Grand Jury Reform in Two States: The Case for Reform. This research reflects an in-depth study of grand jury reform in two states – New York and Colorado. In conducting this study, researchers Erin Crites, Jon Gould and Colleen Shepard of the Center for Justice, Law & Society at George Mason University studied the experiences of prosecutors, defense lawyers and retired judges. Four key reform recommendations emerge from the research: (i) defense representation in the grand jury room, (ii) production of witness transcripts for the defense, (iii) advance notice for witnesses to appear, and (iv) the presentation of exculpatory evidence to the grand jury.

In order to return the grand jury system to the independent and legitimate function envisioned by the framers of the Constitution, there is much to be learned from the Colorado and New York systems. This report illustrates how reforms such as having a witness’s lawyer in the grand jury room and requiring prosecutors to present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury are viewed by both sides of the courtroom as increasing the accuracy, effectiveness and legitimacy of the grand jury. In addition, as the report’s findings uniformly demonstrate, NACDL’s proposed grand jury reforms have no harmful effects.

As former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Larry Thompson wrote in the foreword, “For an accusatory process that on its face emphasizes the role of the citizen, the grand jury is a patently un-democratic body…I say this having sought countless indictments before grand juries and having overseen the Justice Department’s work to promulgate uniform rules for federal prosecutions, including grand jury proceedings. Simply put, the federal grand jury exists today, for the most part, as a rubber stamp for prosecutors.”

NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer explained, “The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that ‘[n]o person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment or indictment by a grand jury.’ Unfortunately, today’s federal grand jury system, and indeed that of many states, bears no resemblance to the independent body familiar to America’s founders.”

Evaluating Grand Jury Reform in Two States: The Case for Reform marks an important contribution to the public discourse and efforts to reform a broken grand jury system.

The full report is available here. A podcast message from NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer is available here.

Contact: Ivan J. Dominguez, Deputy Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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