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Critics: Secret Grand Jury Process Raises Questions

Posted July 12, 2007

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— Critics argue a secret grand jury process makes it difficult for the public to see both sides of a court case.

On Wednesday, a grand jury voted not to indict Christopher Long. The former New Hanover County deputy sheriff shot and killed 18-year-old Peyton Strickland while serving an arrest warrant as part of a team of heavily armed deputies.

"They (law enforcement officers) don't have the reflection time that reporters and lawyers do. We get to develop our arguments and think them out," attorney Michael McGuinness said to a group of reporters.

When a previous grand jury said it mistakenly had indicted Long on murder charges by checking the wrong box on a form, Long's brief time in custody allowed a glimpse into the prosecutor's evidence. At a bond hearing, it was discovered that Long told investigators he mistook the sound of his own officers breaking down a door as gunfire.

There are no transcripts of grand jury testimony, and jurors are sworn to secrecy. Attorney Robert Nunley said he believes the process should be more open.

"When there's not transparency, that plays into the conspiracy theorists," he said.

If special prosecutors took the case to a grand jury, he said, they must have believed criminal charges were justified. As a defense attorney for both police officers and criminal defendants, he said he sees both sides.

"That's a tragedy. A kid's lost his life. It's a tragedy for the officer. I believe he's probably devastated by this," Nunley said.

The grand jury based its decision Wednesday on testimony from Long, the teen's father and investigators.

The Attorney General's office does not plan to release an investigative report on the case. The Strickland family may consider a civil suit against the former deputy.

43 Comments

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  • nowayeddy Jul 13, 2007

    Rock21, you are poorly informed. The incident happened at a house, not an apartment. The rest of what you wrote was pure dribble and I will not comment on it

  • nowayeddy Jul 13, 2007

    Inter Alios, wrong, it is not public information, if it is, please provide a web address. Since the clerk office is online, I would be able to find it. Put up, or shut up

  • ghwhitaker1_old Jul 13, 2007

    "nowayeddy" - Your name, as a member of the grand jury, is a public record. Anyone who wants to know can obtain the information from the Clerk of Court. The public's business should be conducted in public. There is no valid reason for grand jury proceedings to be secret. Originally, the grand jury protected citizens from the government. As it has evolved over the years into secrecy, it protects law enforcement and the prosecution from their shenanigans. Citizens are indicted when the prosecution knows full well evidence does not exist to convict. People are kept in jail under such indictments for months or even years under bail bonds so high there is no possibility the accused could be released pending trial. The idea is...to coerce a guilty plea just to get out of jail. That is just flat wrong any way you look at it.

  • nowayeddy Jul 12, 2007

    Even tough I think he should have been indicted, I feel the privacy requirement should not change. I was on a GJ once. After seeing what really goes on around here, I would not want some defendants to have access to me. There are some very disturbed people in the world. Seems if you want the bad guys to get to court, let the people who do the intial review of the case have their privacy, so that they don't have to worry about revenge. The courts can hash out any of the garbage charges that get thru. By the wat, it is my experience from interviewing the police during the hearings, some will lie to get the indictment. Most or honest, some are worse than the criminals though.

  • Rock21 Jul 12, 2007

    The Deputy was doing his job. He was authorized by higher authorities to go to the apartment with his SWAT Team and take down the criminals. The responsibility lies with the system that allows this. In 1966 the Texas Tower sniper had killed fourteen people and injured dozens more in a little over ninety minutes. Because the police had no type of training to deal with this type of public violence SWAT teams were formed. They are definately needed for those violent public situations. They are not needed to assault homes and private property. All they had to was put these guys under surveillance and capture them when it was safe to do so. If they become violent and agressive then take them out. As long as the system justifies these assaults it responsible and not the pawns. He is going to lead a very troubled life because of his actions. Those responsible for putting him there are not even questioned in any type of way, let alone a by grand jury.

  • Nancy Jul 12, 2007

    The Dude - the topic of the discussion, for most anyway, is the fact that the procedure of double secrecy (no transcript, no record kept of testimony to the GJ) is what is creating the problem.

    In other cases it has been proven the GJ was fed wrong information and they indicted innocent people as a result.

  • The Dude Jul 12, 2007

    Maybe the citizens sitting on the GJ have just a little more common sense than most of you do. Sounds to me like they heard testimony, heard him say he thought he heard gunshots by MISTAKE and fired. You see, some people actually understand that cops do make mistakes sometimes and that if their intent was not criminal, then they should not be charged with a crime. If you guys want all cops charged to the fullest for every honest mistake made in judgement while carrying out their jobs, there will be noone left to do the job.

  • Nancy Jul 12, 2007

    No harm at all aquamama, that's the point. Of the states that still do use the GJ option in addition to probable cause hearings before a magistrate, they do have transcripts that are then turned over as part of discovery to defense counsel in preparation for trial. Nothing hidden, no games to play.

    45 states have GJ's.

  • aquamama Jul 12, 2007

    Secret proceedings have severely limited my trust in my government. Hey, look, there's none left! What would be harmful in AT LEAST keeping transcripts?

  • gvmtcheeses_revenge Jul 12, 2007

    Thats right hondaman, tell everyone to move along, nothing to see here.. go back to sleep right? Please, no one here has to out their life on the line to understand common sense regardless of the situation. We are faced with tough decisions everyday and pay the price for those decisions. Just because you or anyone else wheres a badge does not make you or anyone else impervious to law and its consequences.

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