Opening the Grand Jury
by Jon Roland, 2002 July 13

The undue influence that prosecutors and judges have come to exercise over grand jurors is well-known. The problem is, what can citizens do about it. This is to suggest a few things that can be done.

The most direct way is to get to members of the grand jury, especially the foreperson, and induce it to become a "runaway" grand jury, which asserts its power to operate independently of judge and prosecutor, opens itself to citizen complaints, and hires its own investigators.

The difficulty in doing this is that in most jurisdictions the grand jury is stacked with cronies of the judge or prosecutor, rather than randomly selected. Clearly, if the grand jury is corrupted in this way, options are limited.

Assuming there is some chance of inducing a runaway grand jury, one can try the following:

1 - Get the names and home addresses of the grand jurors. Send literature and complaints directly to the members, both at home and through the announced official address. Your complaints and literature won't get through the official screening, of course, but if the members realize their mail is being censored, they might resent that and respond by opening up. But do the sending anonymously, as you can expect prosecution for "jury tampering" even though such communications do not qualify, especially if they are attempts to introduce new cases.

2 - Target everyone who visits the courthouse with literature and complaints, either by leafletting their vehicles (which risks arrest), or by tracing the vehicle license plates and sending to those addresses.

3 - Publish literature and complaints in other ways, in newspapers of record, on bulletin boards, at public meetings, any way you can, demanding the attention of the grand jury.

If these efforts don't work, there are always the standards:

4 - In states that have grand jury petitions, like Oklahoma, you may try getting a special grand jury that way. (But in the Oklahoma City bombing case, the grand jury that was empaneled was manipulated by the prosecutor anyway.) The petition should itself demand a special prosecutor, preferably named in the petition. Offer a witness on how a grand jury is supposed to operate. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark is often available for this purpose.

5 - Even if there is no formal petition right for a special grand jury, try a petition drive anyway, if only for its publicity value.

6 - In jurisdictions where judges are elected, make it an issue in the campaign. Get judicial candidates to promise to open the grand jury process and make other reforms.

7 - You might try filing for writs of mandamus to open the grand jury. They will probably not work, but when they are rejected, appeal the rejections, and bury the courts in paper on the issue.

8 - Conduct street demonstrations, especially around the courthouse and the offices of the media. Flood the media with press releases, letters to the editor, etc. Conduct "guerrilla theater" events that attract attention.

9 - Educate the public at every opportunity. Run for office and make it an issue in your campaign. Speak at public events. Push for educational materials on the subject in the public schools, even in textbooks. Contact opinion leaders and decisionmakers.

10 - Finally, be well prepared in everything you do, especially in the literature and complaints you distribute or file. Everything should be done to top professional standards. Get a good lawyer to help you, although he will probably need to do so anonymously, and will probably need to be from outside your jurisdiction or even your state. Don't be misled by the "patriot myth" material that is so common. Everything you do has to stand up to vicious scrutiny. Even a single instance of mispunctuation can be seized upon to destroy your credibility. When you appear in person, dress and groom yourself well. Speak like a well- educated professional. Retain your composure and civility at all times.

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Original date: 2002 July 13 — Updated: 2002 July 13