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Federal crimes defendants may be victimized by grand jury system

Attorneys from Raleigh are calling the current North Carolina grand jury system "a joke," alleging that the excessive use of this legal tool is diminishing the quality of legal proceedings in the state. Grand juries hand down indictments in a variety of North Carolina cases, including those in which the defendant is accused of federal crimes. Attorneys argue that the grand juries are handing out indictments indiscriminately, failing to correctly weigh evidence and information in critical cases.

The controversy has only been heightened in the wake of the shooting death of a 24-year-old car accident victim who was seeking help at a home. An officer at that scene was accused of inappropriate conduct in that case. Although a grand jury failed to indict - or formally accuse - the man of criminal charges at first, a second proceeding yielded an indictment. Interestingly, prosecutors are allowed to take a case before a grand jury as many times as they want to in order to obtain an indictment.

Further, attorneys and judges are not permitted to be in the room with the grand jury while it considers information about specific cases. Investigators' voices are the only ones heard during this critical decision-making process. The vast majority of cases thus presented - including those for federal crimes - yield indictments. In fact, grand juries in North Carolina are known for handing down indictments in almost every case they hear. That means that a lot of innocent people are being indicted for crimes they did not commit.

North Carolina criminal defense attorneys work to protect their clients from abuses in the courtroom. For those facing federal crimes, the nature of an indictment can alter the entire legal strategy presented for the defense. Attorneys throughout the state may continue to fight against grand-jury abuses that could compromise defendants' rights to a fair and speedy legal proceeding.

Source:  WNCT, "NC attorneys criticize volume of grand jury cases" No author given, Feb. 02, 2014

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