Local News

Senate Bill Calls for Grand Jury Reform

Posted May 22, 2007 3:41 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2007 8:21 p.m. EDT

— A Mecklenburg County senator is sponsoring a bill that calls for written documentation of all grand jury proceedings, which are currently considered confidential and are unrecorded.

Senate Bill 1131, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dan Clodfelter, also calls for grand jurors to report any possible prosecutorial misconduct to a judge.

The issue of grand jury proceedings in North Carolina was brought forth, in part, Clodfelter said, after after three former Duke University lacrosse players were indicted on charges of raping, sexually assaulting and kidnapping an exotic dancer during a team party in March 2006.

Charges against the three men -- Collin Finnerty, David Evans and Reade Seligmann -- were subsequently dismissed over the next year as the case unfolded and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declared them innocent of all charges. Evidence, Cooper said, was inconsistent with the accuser's stories.

Why the grand jury decided to indict the three men, however, will never be known.

"There's no telling what those grand jurors were told, and we'll never have a way of knowing," Raleigh attorney Joe Cheshire, who represented Evans, said. "We do know they weren't told the truth."

The Duke lacrosse case is an example as to why Clodfelter wants to change the law.

"In the federal system, and in most other states, they do produce transcripts of grand jury proceedings."

Garry Frank, with the North Carolina State Conference of District Attorneys, said the organization does not oppose Clodfelter's call for recording grand jury proceedings but opposes the change that would give grand jurors the ability to report prosecutors for misconduct.

Unlike many other states, prosecutors do not go before grand juries in North Carolina. Only investigators do.

Frank said a prosecutor should not be held accountable for what a law enforcement officer may say inadvertently.

"It seems to be a little unfair to pointedly talk about a district attorney's misconduct when he's not present at the grand jury proceedings," Frank said.

If the change is made, Frank said, prosecutors must be allowed inside the proceedings to explain the case.

Late Tuesday, Clodfelter said he pulled the bill out of a Senate committee to make some changes. He said he wants to keep the part about recording grand jury testimony, but he want to make changes about reporting prosecutorial misconduct.