U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Indictment of a System

NCJ Number
ABA Journal Volume: 87 Dated: January 2001 Pages: 34-40
John Gibeaut
Date Published
January 2001
7 pages
This article reviews the history of the grand jury, cites instances of current abuses of the grand jury system by Federal prosecutors, and discusses a legislative reform that would allow defense attorneys to accompany clients to the grand jury.
Modern Federal grand juries trace their roots back nearly 900 years to England. By the time the institution reached the colonies, grand juries had evolved into bodies that not only indicted the guilty but also protected the innocent from unfounded charges. By the early 20th century, however, grand juries had become primarily prosecutors' weapons, using secrecy and immense subpoena powers to charge defendants and conduct wide-ranging investigations that have spanned months and sometimes years. At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially has viewed the grand jury as an independent fourth branch of government that operates beyond its authority. Defense attorneys argue that the executive branch, through the Justice Department, has hijacked the once-independent grand jury. In one case, grand jury members reported that they were lectured by a supervising prosecutor for failing to indict a defendant. The lecture implied that it was the job of the grand jury to give the legal stamp of approval to the prosecutor's case, since, according to the supervising prosecutor, prosecutors had spent time obtaining the evidence necessary for an indictment. Critics of the grand jury, particularly defense attorneys, say that the secrecy of the grand jury, along with the power given the prosecutor in managing grand jury proceedings, makes the system ripe for prosecutorial misconduct and abuses. This article cites some instances of prosecutorial misconduct in the use of the grand jury. One reform recommended is legislation that will allow defense attorneys to accompany their clients into the grand jury room. This could provide some means of ensuring that prosecutors pay more attention to proper prosecutorial conduct in grand jury proceedings.


No download available