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What is a "runaway" grand jury?

        A runaway grand jury is one in which the grand jurors have taken control of an investigation and are ignoring a prosecutor's efforts to rein them in. In the nineteenth century, many American grand juries were crotchety and independent and did what they wanted; by the twentieth century, grand juries had pretty much come under the control of prosecutors.

        A runaway grand jury is an exception to this rule--the grand jurors ignore the prosecutor(s) and start making their own decisions.   Runaway grand juries were not uncommon in the early twentieth century.  The best known of these runaway grand juries is probably the New York grand jury in the 1930's that barred prosecutors from coming into the grand jury room and took off on its own investigation of corruption in New York city government.  This grand jury eventually cooperated with Thomas E. Dewey, whom the jurors apparently decided they could trust, and returned many indictments against a variety of defendants, including some well known members of the New York Mafia. Since modern grand jurors tend to be ignorant of their ability to act independently of a prosecutor's wishes, runaway grand juries have pretty much become a thing of the past. There have, however, been a few exceptions:   Recently, for example, a California state grand jury indicted all the top county officials, and nearly closed down county government.  And a Texas state grand jury began investigating a mayoral candidate and seems to have ruined his reputation sufficiently to cause him to lose the election, even though he was never charged with any crimes.

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