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Chief Justice Says No To Eliminating Grand Juries

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State of Ohio
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Republican Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor has told Democratic State Senator Sandra Williams the court is powerless to get rid of the grand jury process. Williams, a member of Governor John Kasich's police-community relations task force, is urging the court to replace closed-door grand juries with a public indictment process in order to build trust in the handling of fatal police shootings. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

Currently, it is up to a grand jury to decide whether to indict someone on charges. But that closed grand jury process hears testimony in secret to determine if charges will be filed by prosecutors.  State Senator Sandra Williams says the problem is that lack of transparency leads to questions in recent high profile cases, especially those involving police officers and minorities. So she wants the Ohio Supreme Court to get rid of the grand jury system in Ohio.
 
“It’s brought about by the concerns that many of my constituents have and that people have raised from Ohio and other parts of the state. We do not know what’s going on. We do not know why all of the grand juries are coming back with no indictment when it comes to excessive use of force,” Williams says.
 
Williams is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to abolish grand juries, replacing them with a preliminary hearing process – or at least allowing testimony to be public record. She says 23 other states use that system instead of grand juries. But John Murphy with the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association says there’s no need to get rid of the grand jury process because it works. He says the secretive nature of the process protects the innocent.
 
“Some people brought before a grand jury that are investigated by a grand jury are never charged. That’s one of the main purposes of a grand jury is to deal with these cases or investigate these cases and make a decision. And if they decide not to charge then that person should not be held up to public ridicule or have that information released to be printed in the public presses when they are innocent of the charges that were brought against them,” Murphy says.
 
Murphy also says the secretive nature of the grand jury helps shield witnesses from the public too, adding some of them might be needed in later trials. And he says the preliminary hearing process that Williams wants is more expensive.  For her part, the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Maureen O’Connor, says – quoting from a letter she wrote to Williams – “the state and federal constitution say no one should be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on presentment or indictment of a grand jury.” And O’Connor says she’d encourage a wider discussion of all of the issues surrounding the grand jury process.  The Ohio Association for Justice and the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union were contacted for their response to Williams’ proposal but neither group was able to respond today.