Grand Jury Notes

You have to go through metal detectors to enter the building. (It’s the wrong time now, but sooner or later that’s a case waiting to happen. Can the government compel you to enter a building that requires to be searched to enter? I tend to think not.) A sign up front near the X-ray machines at the courthouse door said we weren’t allowed to bring in cameras or “electronic equipment”. No one complained about my laptop though. I’m not sure if the officer even bothered to look at the image from the X-ray machine when I came in. Airport-level security it’s not. I expect there are more than a few camera phones in here. I probably could have gotten in with a Canon EOS 40D if I really wanted to.

There’s wireless access, but it’s got some sort of annoying filter proxy installed that limits Google to safe searches and blocks access to dangerous sites like Transmission.

They’re about two hundred of us in a large room at 320 Jay Street. They’re showing us an Ed Bradley video about Judge Roy Bean, of all folks (a Confederate and Justice of the Peace with 3 months of formal education). He selected his jurors from his saloon and fined them if they didn’t vote the way he wanted them too. There’s a brief history of juries and grand juries. What they omit (the early history of American grand juries and private prosecutions) is more interesting than what they include.

Now Ed Bradley’s been replaced by Sam Waterston (i.e. Hang ’em High Mccoy from Law and Order). Sam tells us we may get any crime: murder, drugs, rape, sodomy. (Well there’s at least one that’s a quick No vote. Is sodomy even still a crime in New York?)

The foreperson is chosen by the court. We can ask questions of the prosecutors and we can ask to speak to a judge. It’s not clear if we can ask questions of witnesses directly, or call our own witnesses. We are forbidden to seek or receive legal advice from any other source. (No googling for case law I guess.) The accused may appear if they wish to, and they may ask us to hear other witnesses. The accused may have an attorney present for advice, but the attorney may not participate. The proceedings are confidential. (Damn. No live blogging about the case. ) We deliberate alone. 12/23 is required to indict, and 16 are required for a quorum. We can redirect some cases to family court or lower court, but the prosecutor has to tell us when we can do this.

You can get out of this if you:

  • Served on a jury less than four years ago
  • Don’t work fulltime and have childcare issues
  • Have a felony conviction
  • Are not a U.S. citizen.

Documented illnesses may also get you out. If you can’t communicate in English, you can also get out. At least a dozen people stood up for this one. Of course, the announcement was made in English, so one does wonder how they understood it.

They’re picking three 10-day juries. Good. No chance I’ll get stuck with a three-week, four-week, or six-month term.

They need about 80 jurors. They won’t take everyone today (Yay, may get out of this yet) but if we don’t get selected today we have to come back in 2-6 months anyway (Damn!) Still January would work better for me than now. It’s possible we won’t have to work all day, all ten (or eleven) days. That would be very helpful. I really need to put in at least half a day at work today or early next week. Then again we may be here till 6:00 or 6:30 or even 8:00 P.M. some days. That could be a problem on Thursday.

Now they’re calling names. The court officer does a surprisingly good job of handling the cacophony of Brooklyn names, much better than I do. I missed Jury E. OK. I’m on Jury J. The warden says they’ll make sure I get out on time to teach on Thursday as usual.

They let the people who weren’t selected go. We’re sworn in. Judge Allen Maris tells us the rules and duties. We’re allowed to examine any misconduct that may have occurred in public office, criminal or otherwise. Apparently in New York immunity of grand jury witnesses is automatic. It does not require a special deal. However the prosecutor may require a witness to waive immunity. (What happens to the 5th amendment then?) The grand jury does not have to listen to the witnesses called by the person being charged.

We’re not expected to know anything about the law.

We can ask the prosecutor to pose questions of the witness, but he/she doesn’t have to ask them. We cannot quiz the witness directly. Apparently we cannot call our own witnesses. I guess that keeps us from “running away” too far. (Grand juries aren’t what they used to be, at least in New York. :-( )

Prosecutors may not talk to us outside the grand jury room. If we recognize any witness from outside the court, we have to tell the D.A.

Charges against 13-15 year olds can be referred to family court instead of indicting.

Note taking is not encouraged but not prohibited. A stenographer will be present. Notes may not be taken home. They give us a notebook to use for notes.

Lunch is from 1:00 P.M. until 2:00 P.M.

I may get out this afternoon yet. We have to report back Monday at 9:45 A.M. in Room 2 on the 16th floor. We are expected to hear 20-40 cases over the two weeks. Call 347-296-1863 if I’m out sick any given day. There are alternates. There are sign-in and sign-out sheets. (Apparently jurors sometimes “forget” to come back from lunch.)

This is the first time they’ve ever picked a jury on Friday. That means we’re stuck with an extra day.

Breaks at 11:30 and 3:30 for fifteen minutes each time. Sounds like there may be a lot of waiting for witnesses, attorneys, and defendants. Have to remember to bring a book.

2:30 P.M. and I’m out here.

2 Responses to “Grand Jury Notes”

  1. Jury Experiences Says:

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  2. John Cowan Says:

    That word does not mean what you think it means. “Sodomy” means rape by oral or anal means, and most such cases were men forcing women to have oral sex with them. “Rape” as such still requires a penis and a vagina, but the penalties are the same in any case: it’s just a matter of labeling. (The law against consensual sodomy had been a dead letter since 1980 and was officially repealed in 2000.)

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