“if no one is informed, no one will object.”

My goodness, no one seems to know what grand juries are! I sure didn’t, until this week. Because they’re called “juries,” people think they’re trial juries. Not at all! Here’s a good article explaining how grand juries work by activist Craig Rosebraugh.

Grand Juries, often referred to as the “strong arm of the court system,” thrive off public ignorance, working behind closed doors and under seemingly little regulation. Often working in accordance with the Justice Department, the Grand Jury system has been, and continues to be, used for gathering intelligence and suppressing “radical” groups and organizations that oppose current governmental policies.


In my experience, the most fascinating aspect about Grand Juries is that the public is largely misinformed and kept in the dark about their true nature. Most citizens do not realize that an individual called before a Grand Jury has neither the right to counsel nor Fifth Amendment protection in the proceedings. I have found that people from all walks of life are outraged when they learn of this reality.

It is this very secrecy and deception that has allowed Grand Juries to persist. It is a simple rule that says if no one is informed, no one will object.  (link)

I don’t know if it’s legal for me to write this, but I must say that so far my grand jury experience resembles the Milgram Experiment. That’s the one where an authority instructs an “average person” to administer painful electric shocks to someone else. As long as the authority figure tells them it’s ok, the “average person” just keeps pushing that shock button, ignoring the victims’ screams of agony because the authority instructs them to. Likewise, the prosecuting attorneys instruct us to ignore any details about cases they don’t control; if we ask questions about other charges, they say that’s none of our business. We don’t get to see or hear our victims; we have only authorities telling us to push the button. In a sealed, secret room. I’ve sat on my hands a number of times, but believe me, most people are happy to comply with the authorities. They know not what they do, and the system likes it that way.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.[4]

Please understand what grand juries are. They need to be abolished, as they have been almost everywhere outside the United States.



Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

10 thoughts on ““if no one is informed, no one will object.””

  1. Well, either they need to be abolished or people need to have the same protections in front of grand juries that they do in front of trial juries… That would allow a grand jury to still act as a check on overzealous prosecutors, while preventing it from being a way to force activists to testify about their doings without legal guidance or protection. And because the members of a grand jury are just voting about whether to indict, not whether to convict, they would be perfectly free to regard someone’s silence as suspicious and vote the case to trial anyway. In a way, the lower threshold for convincing the jurors means that defendant protections could, if anything, be *stronger* than they are for trial juries, without impairing the effectiveness of grand juries for their stated purpose.

    Of course, they seem to have drifted far from that original purpose anyway… 🙁

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Jury#Criticism has some very good commentary.

  2. I don’t what’s so bad about this. After all, the grand jury only decides whether the case goes to trial, right? In the trial, the defendant gets all the protection he wants. And prosecutors are allowed to choose the jury because they should be allowed the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the decision of whether there should be a trial.
    Of course, it’s a bum that they can call new ones how many ever times they want.

  3. @Ronak – being sent to trial is no joke. Also they don’t just send things to trial – they legitimize charge after charge. Also Grand Juries are used to gather evidence that would be unconstitutional in a real trial. Also, if you read the above, Grand Juries compliantly rubber stamp whatever the prosecutor wants. They simply don’t work the way they were supposed to.

  4. Take heart. In my small town (~30K), the grand juries have no qualms about telling the prosecutor to go piss up a rope if they think he’s trying to blow smoke up their asses. (This from 3 people I know who have served.)

    OTOH, any petit jury duty letter I get will result in a contempt citation against me, after I get done telling off the attorneys during the selection.

  5. Anon thinks the grand jury in his small town is fair, based on three people he knows who served. Well, that was one grand jury. How about the next and the next? Most people are sheep, as Nina describes.

    And trials rarely are fair. Look at what happened to Ted Stevens, with the best lawyers money can buy. If prosecutors play dirty and your lawyers just want to get the job done or the judge is a former prosecutor who sees no evil, the trial ends up with a guilty verdict, no matter how much evidence you have to show your innocence.

    Over and over innocent people plead guilty because they know if they insist on trial they will lose. That is the certainty, if you are represented by a lawyer like the one who represented Michael Farris–a true story, a young man I am helping to get his conviction vacated. To read the story in short and/or pleadings filed, please go to http://www.AccidentalFelon.net/Michaels-story/

  6. Actually, the grand jury system probably works fine in a small town. The thing is, the American justice system was built for a small town country. The jury system (both grand and petit) was created when people on the juries KNEW the people involved in the trial, both defendant and victim. Now of course, if you know anyone involved in the case you would be immediately discharged – the system is designed to select jurors who are completely ignorant of the case.

    Ignorant juries are at least free of prejudice against individuals, but the price paid for this given the natural tendency of most people to defer to authority is very high. The Milgram Experiment comparison is a thoughtful one I’d not considered in this context. This is a compelling arguement for reform – that the purpose of the grand jury has been subverted by modern practice, leaving the accused worse off with the “protection” than without it.

  7. Your complaint is about ignorant jurors not the grand jury as an institution. Fix the problem or you will creat another, really bad problem. The grand jury was explicity created to prevent prosecutorial and official misconduct. If you don’t have a replacement that would amount to the fox guarding the henhouse, leave the grand jury alone, warts and all. Then go about fixing it. It is an educational challenge not an institutional challenge.

  8. Theres an old saying amongst lawyers, a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if asked to by the prosecutor.
    They are a tool of the DA’s office, that is all. They exist to include members of the community in illegal and immoral judgments. When I learned, all too painfully, what a grand jury does……you are right…..I was furious. But not surprised. I’ve known for a long time that there are no “rights”…..there are only privileges. Don’t kid yourself. Don’t let them lie to you and don’t you lie to yourself. You have no rights. And in the coming 20 years…..I have a feeling everyone in this country will have no choice but to wake up to that fact.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *