Sheryl Uhlmann: A grand jury's power

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Our elected District Attorney Brett Barkey recently announced the formation of a grand jury (“Grand jury seated for counties,” March 14 Steamboat Today), a rarity in our judicial district. A grand jury is a group of citizens chosen to work with the prosecution to investigate criminal allegations and, if probable cause is found, to return indictments. While most criminal cases are investigated by local law enforcement or the District Attorney’s Office, grand juries themselves are investigative bodies. They have powers that investigating police and prosecutors typically do not, including the ability to subpoena witnesses, even children as young as 10 years old; to subpoena documents; and to offer witnesses immunity. Unlike most court proceedings, which are open to the public, grand juries convene in secret. The times and places the grand jury meets are kept secret, jurors and witnesses are sworn to secrecy, and the only people allowed in the room during grand jury proceedings are the jurors, the prosecutor, the witness and the witness’s attorney, who is allowed to advise only the witness.

Not necessitated by any actual need to investigate a specific case, our district attorney’s experiment in prosecutorial power has been publicized by local media without any explanation of a person’s rights in relation to grand jury proceedings.

The rights to representation and fundamental fairness are no less important in grand jury proceedings than they are in criminal trials. A person is not required to appear before a grand jury, give testimony or produce evidence, unless they are properly subpoenaed to do so at least 48 hours before their appearance is required. A subpoenaed person has the right to ask the court to quash or modify a subpoena to testify or bring evidence before the grand jury. Even if properly subpoenaed, a person required to testify before the grand jury is entitled to the assistance of counsel during the time they are being questioned and, if they cannot afford counsel, is entitled to have the court appoint a lawyer for them without cost. Finally, a person also may refuse to answer questions for “just cause” (for example, physician/patient privilege or spousal privilege) and always has the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer questions that may incriminate them.

Grand juries can be powerful tools — they can return indictments or can refuse a prosecutor’s request to do so. But just as with all powerful tools, grand juries are subject to abuse. Knowing your rights will help guarantee that this district’s grand jury becomes a tool for justice, not an excuse for an inquisition.

Sheryl Uhlmann

Steamboat Springs

Comments

bill schurman 1 year ago

It's been said that a Grand Jury can indict a ham sandwich. It can clearly can be abused by an over zealous prosecutor. What's Brett have up his sleeve now that he's wasting the taxpayers money? The Marie Blee disappearance comes to mind.

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rhys jones 1 year ago

And I'm sorry my flippance downplayed (if they did) your remarks, Bill -- but we're all good ol' boys round these parts, don't mean nobody wrong. Just play along.

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Eric J. Bowman 1 year ago

Sad. One plus for me in relocating here 20 years ago, and source of pride as a NW CO resident since, has been the lack of grand juries. A couple days ago, I brought up the story of a guy I grew up with, trial now set for June:

http://www.coloradoan.com/article/20121102/NEWS01/311020042/Appraiser-indicted-alleged-forgery

OK, yeah, looks like he was doing a shady deal; doesn't surprise me. But racketeering? This is a one-off deal, not the freaking mafia. Even if convicted, I doubt the racketeering charges will stick. But the Weld DA sure did revel in all the election-year publicity when the grand jury had no problem handing down an indictment designed entirely to sensationalize, thereby drawing press coverage for some "tough on crime" grandstanding.

I'd like to see half as much effort put into bringing the banksters to justice, otherwise prosecutions like this seem to directly violate the 14th amendment -- those indicted in this case simply aren't rich and powerful enough to avoid prosecution.

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Kevin Nerney 1 year ago

Eric, you may not know it but this is why I was never a big fan of Guiiani, back in NY. Everybody credits Rudy with cleaning up the city when in reality all he did was step on people's rights, civil or otherwise. As DA he helped write the RICO statuates. Whenever gov't can't stop a particluar activity they just write another law saying such activity is no longer legal and the arrests begin. That's how they got Gotti and could never get Capone so they got him on tax evasion. As for the Mafia comment Enron, the Banks, and all the other Wall streeters are a lot more organized and illegal then a bunch of old fat Italians sitting in a back room smoking cigars.

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mark hartless 1 year ago

"... a man sowed good seed in his field,

But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.

But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?

He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.

Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn."

--Matthew 13

So too is the dilema of all who believe they can rid this earth of its "weeds" using the laws of men.

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