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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.

Can I get access to the transcripts of a 1930 grand jury proceeding?

A Federal Grand Jury sat in Providence, RI in 1930. The case involved the death of 4 men that the US Coast Guard killed while "rum running" in the East Bay passage of Narragansett Bay, RI. The grand jury was requested by Rhode Island State Officials to the federal attorney in Providence, RI., because of the strong public outrage.

How long are the transcripts sealed? 

Response: The answer to your question is, "it depends." A federal district court recently released PARTS of the transcripts of the federal grand jury's inquiry into the Alger Hiss treason investigation, which occurred over fifty years ago. The court selectively released parts of the transcripts in response to a motion from a historical researcher, who was supported by various distinguished historical associations. The court did not, however, release all the transcripts, nor did it do so without going through a detailed analysis and finding that the release of the sections at issue was permissible.

All of which illustrates, as I've always said, that there's no half life for grand jury secrecy. That is, grand jury secrecy is presumptively eternal--it takes a lot to get past it. If someone wants access to these transcripts, they'll have to show particularized need for them (i.e., that they need specific, identified portions of the transcripts to avoid injustice in a pending judicial proceeding or, after the Alger Hiss case, apparently for valid scholarly inquiry), and convince a court of that. They'll also have to show that the reasons for secrecy (preventing flight of guilty parties, preventing tampering with grand jurors, encouraging witnesses to testify fully) are no longer compelling.

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