What is Tennessee’s Grand Jury system all about?
Nashville criminal defense attorney Lee Martin explains and explores the various functions of Tennessee’s grand jury system. Tennessee’s grand jury system is founded under common law principles and is governed by Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 6. Grand juries were designed to be an independent body that heard cases involving citizens accused of crimes. Their role was to act independently of the government to ensure that justice prevailed. They are to act as a check and balance to government. Like most states, Tennessee uses the grand jury system. A grand jury will usually hear a criminal case after a general sessions court judge has determined that sufficient probable cause exists. This finding allows and justifies further prosecution of the crime(s). The grand jury (in theory) will also independently review the evidence to determine if the charges are warranted and necessitate further prosecution. The “independence” of Tennessee grand juries has often been questioned by many legal scholars. Many jurists have opined that the grand jury would indict a ham sandwich.
A grand jury is a panel of local citizens drawn from the qualified juror pool. When selecting the grand jury, the names of these qualified jurors is written on a sheet of paper and placed into a selection box. Then, the names of the one foreperson and twelve jurors are randomly selected in open court by the presiding judge. Tennessee Rule Criminal Procedure 6(a)(1).
These grand jurors are given inquisitorial powers beyond those prescribed in their authority to return a presentment. This means that grand jurors are given independent powers to further investigate crimes beyond what evidence is presented in open court by the government or police. Grand jurors are entitled free access to all county offices and buildings in order to examine all records and other papers of any county officers in any way connected with their grand jury duties. This power gives the grand jury the authority to “inquire into, consider, and act on all criminal cases submitted to it by the district attorney general.” Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e)(1). This gives grand jurors virtually unlimited independent powers to investigate crimes committed within their community. They can go behind the scenes to double check the evidence and testimony presented in court. I suggest this seldom happens in Tennessee and the grand jury just acts as a rubber stamp for the government.
The District Attorney presents a one-side version to the grand jury via witness testimony and other evidence. The District Attorney can even give the grand jury legal advice but they are not allowed to be present when the grand jury votes upon indictments or presentments. These deliberations are designed to be secret and citizens accused of crimes are not allowed to attend or present evidence. That’s right. The defendant is not allowed to attend or offer any type of proof. Does this sound fair to you? This is just some food for thought. Take it for what it is worth.
-Lee Martin is a nationally recognized DUI and criminal defense attorney. He provides premier legal services by limiting his caseload exclusively to DUI and criminal matters. Lee knows how to build a solid defense strategy for your upcoming court date. Let Lee Martin be your choose as your Nashville area criminal defense lawyer. If you have pending charges, give him a call at 615-345-1988.
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