House committee hears resolution that would allow Missouri voters to decide if grand juries are legal
MDN Menu
MDN.ORG Mo. Digital News Missouri Digital News MDN.ORG: Mo. Digital News MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News

House committee hears resolution that would allow Missouri voters to decide if grand juries are legal

Date: February 11, 2015
By: Jill Ornitz
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HJR 17

JEFFERSON CITY - A House committee heard testimony regarding a resolution that would allow Missouri voters to repeal a constitutional amendment that makes grand juries legal.

However, none of the testimony directly mentioned the unrest in Ferguson and a grand jury's non-indictment of Darren Wilson.

The closest mention of any of the national unrest that rocked the country following two non-indictments of police officers was a description of the circumstances surrounding Eric Gardner's death in New York City.

"If a chokehold was ruled illegal and unconstitutional and it's on video, and the grand jury still fails to find the indictment in that, then you have to question the system," said Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Jackson County, the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 17.

Ellington told the House Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee that grand juries are biased because they only allow prosecutors to present evidence. He also said they are antiquated and act only as a remnance of America's colonial past and are clouded in secrecy.

"We're talking about a judicial system that should be transparent," He said. "Yet we have a proceeding that goes back to the 17, 1600s. We have people coming in with hoods over their heads and we're hiding their faces."

Ellington also testified grand juries cause irreversible damage to the reputations of those who go through the process.

"If you're indicted or you're even going through the grand jury process, the people that are coming in are in secrecy, but your life is already in shambles," Ellington told the committee.

But opponents of the resolution testified provisions already exist to prevent prosecutors from unfairly influencing grand juries.

"If a prosecutor became an advocate in front of the grand jury as opposed to a presenter of evidence, then that forman can go to the presiding judge that superintends over the grand jury and say that," said Cole County Prosecutor Michael Richardson.

Richardson also told the committee that grand jurors take their obligations to help law enforcement very seriously.

"Citizen grand jurors take their oaths very seriously," Richardson said.

Ellington told the committee that he was working on drafting amendments to the resolution that would allow grand juries in special situations when privacy is necessary, including cases of child abuse.

Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.