November 22, 2011 1:46PM

Grand Jury Reform Needed

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has just released a new report calling for reform of the federal grand jury system. Here’s an excerpt from the foreword to that report:

The same respect that the founding fathers had for the grand jury has faded in the modern criminal process. Undeniably, few institutions written into the U.S. Constitution manifest such disparity between design and practice as the federal grand jury. For an accusatory process that on its face emphasizes the role of the citizen, the grand jury is a patently un‐​democratic body. Indeed, the 94 federal grand juries across the country function more like feudal duchies, in which federal prosecutors exercise virtually unchecked power to indict. I say this having sought countless indictments before grand juries and having overseen the Justice Department’s work to promulgate uniform rules for federal prosecutions, including grand jury proceedings. Simply put, the federal grand jury exists today, for the most part, as a rubber stamp for prosecutors. This means that the grand jury no longer protects citizens from unfounded charges, government overreaching, and miscarriages of justice.

Those are the words of Larry Thompson, a former top ranking official in the Department of Justice who oversaw the work of federal prosecutors between 2001–2003. A link to the full report can be found here.

For Cato scholarship on this subject, go here.