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Note: The comments and questions on this page came from people who visited this website. Please feel free to send your comments and questions to Professor Brenner (brenner@udayton.edu). She will respond privately, and may ask permission to post your message on this page. No one's e-mail will be used without first obtaining their permission, and names and e-mail addresses are removed before a comment is posted. Starting in 2002, the responses posted to the site indicate which of us replied: The initials SWB mean Professor Brenner wrote the response; the initials LES mean Professor Shaw wrote the response. We are also putting the year down, to indicate when the response was posted. If no initials appear, Professor Brenner wrote the response.

Our grand jury always indicts—who does that help?

Here in Illinois, the Cook County grand jury votes about a thousand true bills a month, and one no bill every three months. Who is served by this, other than the prosecutor?

Response:

As it presently operates, probably no one. But I don't think the fault lies in the institution--I think the fault lies in the fact that the grand jurors don't realize what their true role is, i.e., that they are supposed to act as a check on the prosecutor.

My often-espoused theory is that in today's society we don't have role models for what is involved in being a grand juror. (A hundred or two hundred years ago, people had enough familiarity with grand jurors, which were an intrinsic part of their daily lives, that they knew what grand jurors were supposed to do.) The role model we have is for trial jurors, and trial jurors sit passively and do what the court tells them to do, which is pretty much listen to evidence and then vote. Consequently, I think people who are sworn in as grand jurors think that's what they're supposed to do, so that is what they do: They sit passively, listen to the prosecutor and then vote. If we can come up with some way of educating people so they know that the grand jurors are in charge of the grand jury and are supposed to run the show, acting as a check on the prosecutor, then I think the institution can begin to perform its intended function. 

I think trial jurors are very conscientious in performing their role. I think grand jurors would be, too, if they had a better understanding of their role, complete with its powers and responsibilities.

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