WRAL Investigates

After Duke Lacrosse Case, Questions Abound About Grand Juries

Posted August 8, 2007

— After a grand jury indicted three Duke lacrosse players last year in a case in which officials later determined that a crime never happened, some are questioning the process – including the secretiveness – of grand juries as a whole.

Grand juries typically hear one side – the prosecutor’s. One local district attorney and two people who served on a grand jury said they have concerns about the secret process, including training procedures and a lack of oversight.

Because of the secretive nature of grand juries, WRAL has concealed the identities of the two former jurors. They did not serve on the grand jury that indicted the Duke lacrosse players.

“Someone is testifying against you, saying things that aren’t written down (and) that you can’t confront later in court,” one of the former grand jurors said.

Testimony is secret, and there are no transcripts of grand jury proceedings. Jurors are chosen at random and can serve anywhere from six to 12 months.

The grand jurors who spoke with WRAL said that if investigators told them there was a confession, it was taken at face value and it meant an indictment would be returned.

“We wouldn’t have to hear the whole story,” one former grand juror said.

“We wouldn’t have to discuss it if he said he had a confession,” the other said.

One juror said they were allotted five minutes per witness.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said he thinks a review of the process is needed, but he doesn’t think that having a transcript will solve what he believes are bigger problems, he said.

“There are legitimate concerns, and case load is one of them,” Willoughby said.

Grand jurors with whom WRAL spoke said they would hear 100 to 160 cases in a five- to seven-hour period. Training amounts to senior members showing incoming members what to do.

“It also allows people to develop bad habits and perpetuate that,” Willoughby said.

Grand juries don't determine guilt or innocence, but they can send cases to trial. That's why one grand juror said he would prefer a record for accountability.

“Here’s what convinced 12 people that probably a crime had been committed,” the juror said.

Serious drug offenses can result in an investigative grand jury, where a transcript is required.

Willoughby said he has been pushing lawmakers to convene investigative grand juries for political corruption and white-collar crime cases. A bill has been drafted, but so far, he has not gotten much traction at the General Assembly, he said.

Another little-known fact about grand juries is that they must inspect the jail and may inspect other county offices or agencies, according to a North Carolina statute. The jurors must report the results of its inspections to the court.

Willoughby says it's a decades-old provision to provide a check-and-balance system for the sheriff. In Wake County, grand jurors are taken on a routine tour of the jail, he said.


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  • CauseTaker Aug 9, 2007

    "Evidence means nothing. Guilt means nothing. Crime against another human being means nothing. It's all about who's gonna get paid." - ncgovsucksagain, August 9, 2007 12:14 a.m.

    Let's not forget about the people who get off the hook... Politicians, Judges, Police, Lawyers, and thier families. I call them the "JustUS" System, more like an exclusive club where membership grants you a 'Get Out of Jail for FREE' card. Laws don't apply to them the same as John Q. Citizen. Every once in a while a club member gets hung, like Nifong has, but it doesn't happen nearly often enough.

    We definitely need to get back to the days of requiring Prosecutors to seek indictments from a Judge in open court. It's far too easy, less work for the Prosecutor, to take advantage of a secretive GJ. Absolutely GJ testimony needs to be transcribed in case it is ever needed in the future, as in the Duke case.

  • ncgovsucksagain Aug 9, 2007

    Personnally, I think if we hung the judges and lawyers it would do more to correct the inefficiencies with our judicial system than throwing the drug dealers in jail. At least you would have cut the strings from the puppet masters. It is the constant search for a "loop hole" in the law that has created this pitiful state of affairs. Evidence means nothing. Guilt means nothing. Crime against another human being means nothing. It's all about who's gonna get paid.

  • ncgovsucksagain Aug 9, 2007

    And I'll tell you something else, until we do something to keep the money grubbing attorneys and judges from further demeaning what was once a brilliant idea to ensure that no one would be unjustly accused and "tried in public" (yes, I am talking to you Nifong) not much of anything is going to change. I'll give you a PRIME example. How is it possible, even legal I might add, for you or I to pay an attorney $500 to "get us out of a traffic" ticket, but we, due to our own "ignorance of the law" or "inability" to converse regularly with the judge are left with the only other alternative and that being to pay the fine and court cost, and then have our insurance company decide they want a little bit of the action even though that traffic offense may not have cost them one red cent. People, I have said it all along, until we collectively demand more accountability and take "business" out of politics you and I will continue being screwed by the "powers that be".

  • Nancy Aug 8, 2007

    "Once again we search for a solution to a non-existant problem. The grand jury forces the state to present evidence before charging. If we didn't have a grand jury, the state could simply take out charges and the person would be in the same position as he would be after the case went before a grand jury."

    Wrong. It would actually be more difficult for police to go before a magistrate and present evidence to prove probable cause for an arrest warrant, leading to a pretrial hearing where BOTH sides present before a judge.

    Going to the GJ is a one sided presentation of "evidence" but because there is NO transcript and no judge, the police can say as they wish, leave out important information disproving their claim.

    You've heard the statement that a GJ can indict a ham sandwich? They aren't kidding. It's that easy to get an indictment with a GJ and they are used when a case is very weak.

  • ncgovsucksagain Aug 8, 2007

    While the "purpose" of a grand jury is a good idea (hear evidence against - and supposedly in the defense - of an individual to determine if there is enough reason to go to trial), but as one who is currently serving on a grand jury I would have to agree that what is "actually" practiced is a joke. We only hear the evidence as presented against the defendant(s) from a member of the particular law enforcement branch (local police or sheriff's) department and NEVER hear any evidence refuting the charges. But it isn't the law enforcments fault that this is the case. We will hear an average of 100 cases one day a month. If we were to have the proceedings "by the book" it would take everyday of the year, and that wouldn't keep up with the ever growing pile of cases. No, the problem isn't the law ENFORCEMENTS fault that we are not following a model that was actually set up before the English colonies landed in Jamestown. You can thank our totally defunct and pathetic judicial system.

  • oldschool Aug 8, 2007

    Once again we search for a solution to a non-existant problem. The grand jury forces the state to present evidence before charging. If we didn't have a grand jury, the state could simply take out charges and the person would be in the same position as he would be after the case went before a grand jury. The only difference is, the state wouldn't have to prove anything. In short, the grand jury is a buffer against the state, (not a tool of the state) regardless of how one sided it is.

  • Steve Crisp Aug 8, 2007

    The entire grand jury system is a joke.

    If a crime has been committed, then it is up to the DA to determine if all the elements of the crime have been satisfied. He does that by reviewing any evidence provided by law enforcement or other agencies. Then the DA should make the determination to charge and try. That is what we pay him for. So why isn't he doing his job?

    It seems that the grand jury is simply there to deflect ultimate responsibility from the DA in doing his job. Get rid of the grand jury system and force the state to present all evidence at a probably cause hearing or at trial in an open court of law instead of "testing the waters" first.

  • Nancy Aug 8, 2007

    When District Atty's have the power to abuse the system, it's got to be changed.

    Consider: There are two ways a DA can get charges brought.

    They can go before a magistrate with probable cause for an arrest warrant. Then there would be a pretrial hearing to set bond etc. All documented.

    Or - the easy way, when there is insufficient evidence, go before a GJ. No need to tell ALL the truth, just what gives the GJ the impression you want them to have. No need to tell the GJ that no DNA match is found.

    That is how easy it is to abuse the current GJ system where no transcript is made that can ever show what brought about the true bill (indictment) in the first instance.

    As we have seen clearly in the Duke case, the GJ quickly brought indictments, even though two rounds of DNA showed no match and the only 'evidence' to the claimed 30 min gang sexual assault and beating was her word against theirs.

    How many times are indictments brought on no evidence?

  • olivedrabby Aug 8, 2007

    The law must be changed to require memorialization of GJ testimony. There needs to be a record kept, even if it is not made public. In a case such as the hoax case that Nifong put together, a record of the GJ testimony would be valuable in determining who was at fault and perhaps help in bringing rogue DAs to justice.