Abolish Grand Juries
Sometime after William the Conqueror successfully invaded England in 1066, the new line of kings decided they needed help rounding up local criminals to prosecute. Accordingly, they organized groups of local citizens who could keep up with what was going on in the local area to report crimes to the king and his court whenever they visited town. The result was the origin of grand juries. The process evolved so that prosecutors began to utilize the grand jury to bring about indictments.
Naturally, after the successful American Revolution, the United States and the newly organized states imported the idea into the American Justice System. The antiquated practices of the grand juries continue today in Alabama and a few other states. Unlike the community watch function of the original grand juries in England, the current system pulls citizens out of their busy lives to sit and basically rubber-stamp the wishes of prosecutors. The District Attorneys present cases to grand juries. Very seldom does a grand jury take any initiative of its own in the identification and prosecution of crimes. Very seldom do they depart from the recommendations of the District Attorney. Only the prosecuting authorities usually present evidence to a grand jury. If no indictment is returned the prosecutors can always report to those who were anxious for there to be a prosecution that the grand jury failed to return an indictment. That is a convenient political tool.
Grand juries were abolished in England in 1933, over eighty years ago. Only Alabama and a few states continue to require an indictment by a grand jury to commence a felony prosecution.
Grand juries are a colossal waste of citizen’s time and of tax payer’s money. It is time for the state of Alabama to join with the majority of other states in abolishing grand juries. By abolishing grand juries and having the District Attorney simply take the responsibility (which is already the case, in fact) of deciding who will be prosecuted and commence the prosecution the great inconvenience to a lot of people could be eliminated. Alabama should eliminate the imposition on victims, witnesses and jurors. It would be a simple matter to authorize prosecutors to commence the prosecution on their own initiative. That happens in most states, so there are plenty of examples of appropriate legislation.
One of the advantages of doing away with grand juries is that it could materially speed up the criminal justice system. There is no reason to wait for a grand jury to convene for a criminal prosecution to be commenced. In many rural Alabama counties, grand juries are convened only twice a year and this means that the commencement of the prosecution is often delayed for months.
The current system of criminal justice is an obstacle course for victims and witnesses. First, there is the possibility of a preliminary hearing. The purpose for the preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to bind a case over to the grand jury. At least, theoretically, that is the basis for a preliminary hearing. As a practical matter, the usual function of a preliminary hearing is to allow the defendant to explore evidence that the state is offering in support of prosecution. But in any event, the victim and witnesses have to appear if there is a preliminary hearing. Then there is the grand jury proceeding. Again, the victim and witnesses must appear and give their testimony. And then they must testify a third time at trial.
Law enforcement officers involved in the criminal prosecution, of course, have to come and testify at preliminary hearings, grand jury and trial. Prosecutorial time and talent is wasted on these non-profitable activities.
It is time for Alabama to join with the majority of the other states in the union and do away with the necessity for grand juries for the commencement of felony prosecutions. Surprisingly, with all of the emphasis on the need for a more effective budget and for the many complaints about the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system I believe that I am the voice crying in the wilderness in Alabama concerning this waste of time and resources. Preservation of some role for the grand jury in the investigation of public officials and governmental functions might be appropriate.