The grand jury concept has been much in the news of late. People with axes to grind (including multiple talking heads on CNN) decry the fact that grand juries in Missouri and New York exonerated the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson and the one who grabbed Eric Garner and pulled him to the sidewalk in NYC. Benjamin Crump, the plaintiffs’ attorney for the families in the Brown case, the Garner case, and the Trayvon Martin death before that, has called for a prosecutor to indict without sending the case to the grand jury in yet another racially –charged case.
I know many defense lawyers – and many citizens from the far left to the far right – who hate the grand jury system and believe it should be abolished. Having worked within the American criminal justice system in one way or another for more than four decades – as arresting officer, as police department prosecutor, as expert witness for both sides – I have to profoundly disagree.
When people hear the word “jury,” they think of the regular, “petit” jury: normally six to twelve people with some alternates as “spares” who determine guilt or innocence in a full-blown criminal trial, or apportion responsibility between plaintiff and defendant in the trial of a civil lawsuit. The grand jury is exclusive to the criminal side of the justice house, and is called by the prosecutor to determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, or at least, enough question thereof that the matter should be sorted out in a full-blown trial. The grand jury will return either a “true bill,” which means that the person in question is now a defendant, stands indicted, and is fully inserted into the gullet of the criminal justice machine, or “no true bill,” which essentially exonerates the potential defendant, though that’s not exactly 100% because the prosecutor can usually re-file the case.
The grand jury is the province of the prosecutor. Often, a defense lawyer for the “person of interest” won’t even be allowed in the room, and if he is, he won’t be allowed to advocate for his client. This is what led to the famous saying that “a prosecutor can convince a jury to indict a ham sandwich.” The members of the grand jury hear what the prosecutor allows them to hear. This is what ticks off absolutists on both far left and far right.
And of course, if you are the one who wants to lead the lynch mob that hangs the defendant, you’ll be ROYALLY pissed off if the prosecutor actually allows exculpatory evidence which convinces his or her fellow citizens to return “no true bill.” This is apparently why Benjamin Crump does not want people he hopes to pillory to go in front of grand juries, and it is why CNN’s Sunny Hostin, a former prosecutor herself, was outraged that exculpatory evidence was presented to the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri.
Having been on both sides of this two-way street, I support the grand jury concept, and I applaud prosecutors who perform their duty as ministers of justice to allow exculpatory evidence (indicative of innocence) to go before the grand jurors as well as inculpatory evidence (indicative of guilt). Their job is as much to exonerate the innocent as it is to prosecute the guilty.
Some say, “But if the prosecutor is the sole arbiter of the evidence, he can get anyone he wants indicted!” To which I say, “SO WHAT?”
Please understand: IN MOST JURISDICTIONS, THE PROSECUTOR CAN INDICT ON HIS OR HER OWN WITHOUT A GRAND JURY ANYWAY, under what is generally called an “offer of information.”
In the cases currently under media scrutiny, the grand juries heard both sides of the story, while the public and the talking heads only heard one side’s narrative. Before anyone joins in the howl of the lynch mob, they should ask themselves one question: “If I was the one accused, would I want my side of the story and the evidence supporting me to be heard, before I was sent to trial in a case that would likely cost me six figures worth of dollars and incalculable suffering for myself and my family, before the decision was made to put me through that ordeal?”
The grand juries in the Brown death in Ferguson and the Garner death in New York did hear both sides. Having heard that, they each issued no true bill.
I for one respect that, and the prosecutorial authorities who allowed those grand juries to hear both sides.
I’m writing this on November 9, the anniversary of kristallnacht, and there’s no better way to remember what that means than reading my friend (and yours, if you support gun owners’ civil rights) David Codrea, here: http://www.examiner.com/article/jewish-gun-group-remembers-kristallnacht-on-76th-anniversary. In it he links to a very important essay by another friend, a man I’m proud to have had as a guest lecturer at one of my classes, Rabbi Ron Mermelstein: http://jpfo.org/filegen-a-m/kristal.htm. First published in 1998 by Jews for Preservation of Firearms Ownership, it is as timely now as it was then. Perhaps more so, since in the interim we’ve had more gun prohibitionists claiming, with revisionist history worthy of Holocaust deniers, that the Nazis didn’t disarm the Jews and the Jews never could have fought to save themselves from genocide.
Monday will mark the Marine Corps Birthday; the USMC was founded in 1775. This coming Tuesday will be Veterans Day. I don’t need to remind anyone here how much sacrifice those days of memorialization represent, sacrifice rendered in the name of the freedoms we now enjoy and hope to keep and even expand upon.
Over the centuries and much in the memory of living Americans, the butcher’s bill has been high. May those good people not have been killed and maimed in vain.
I promised all y’all an update on the situation with Jews for Preservation of Firearms Ownership, now under the umbrella of the Second Amendment Foundation. The transfer required a three-person board of directors to be named. As of now, that board consists of Alan Gottlieb, Miko Tempski, and Ohad Lowy. Gottlieb is the founder of SAF, Tempski is general counsel for the same group, and Lowy is a practicing lawyer in the US who was born in Israel.
Two of the three are Jewish, and I for one think that’s important. The “J” had been missing from JPFO for a while. Until the takeover, there hadn’t been a Jewish hand at the tiller of JPFO since Charles Heller left his position as executive director a couple of years ago. The board that continued the mission in the interim was made up entirely of righteous Gentiles. (The capital R term Righteous Gentiles is reserved for those who worked to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. These three good men were born too late to do that. But they went to considerable personal expense and effort to keep the late JPFO founder Aaron Zelman’s brainchild alive and on course, and that sounds pretty damn righteous to me.)
I think the strongest moral imperative of JPFO grew from the lesson of the Holocaust, that gun registration led to gun confiscation and the creation of helpless victims of government-instituted genocide. A Second Amendment Sisters run by men, or a Pink Pistols run by straights, would simply lack credibility in its core message. It was important to re-solidify JPFO’s Jewish identity.
Non-Jews, of course, remain welcome. They have long constituted a majority of JPFO membership. Hell, I remember when Aaron Zelman and I used to joke about me being the token Arab member.
I’m happy to report that Rabbi Dovid Bendory remains with JPFO, and that the dynamic Charles Heller is back, as director of media relations for JPFO. Search is underway for a new executive director.
The announcement of JPFO coming under the SAF umbrella was met with enthusiastic applause from the hundreds of gun owners’ civil rights activists attending the Gun Rights Policy Conference in Chicago this past weekend. Ditto SAF’s tribute to Aaron Zelman. Some folks had called for mass resignation from JPFO, and SAF received a flurry of nasty-grams, but as of last week only ONE actual dues-paying member had resigned and requested a refund. (I’m told the dues refund was sent.) In fact, there has been a small spike in membership renewals and new member sign-ups.
Right now, the entire gun rights community is focused on the critical mid-term elections. SAF’s sister organization, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, headquartered in Washington State, is also working overtime to fight the egregious I-594 initiative there. There are also transferred records to be sorted out, and other such mundane administrative matters. For those reasons, I don’t expect the “new” JPFO ball to really get rolling until after the first of next year.
I’ve personally told the two new JPFO directors who were in attendance in Chicago that I’d like to see Zelman’s ground-breaking books on the desks of every Senator, Congressman, and legislative aide on Capitol Hill. The JPFO message needs to be more widely broadcast, and I have every reason to believe we’ll see exactly that in the coming year. SAF is well positioned to make it happen.
From 9 AM to well after 1 PM, we got useful information from the front lines. Discussing media relations, Tom Gresham and Malia Zimmerman noted among other things that ranting against liberals is counterproductive, because in their collective experience they’ve found that as many as 30% of liberals are pro-gun, and it’s never wise to insult potential allies. There was a three-man panel on dealing with anti-gun media bias. Herb Stupp advised appealing to reporters’ and editors’ sense of fairness: “I appreciate your interest in this issue. Have you considered how many lives are saved by guns?” Herb noted that big city papers often have an ombudsman who handles complaints about press bias. “Speak to the editor if you can’t get through to the reporter,” he advised, “and look for columnists who are friendly or open-minded to the issue.”
Don Irvine from Accuracy In Media (AIM) noted that of 216 stories on gun policy analyzed in the first thirty days after Sandy Hook, eight out of nine favored “gun control.” CBS was the worst with a 22:1 ratio. “Make judicious use of Twitter and Facebook” was his advice. “This is how today’s journalists get their news,” he said.
Charles Heller of Liberty Watch Radio, who does three talk shows in Arizona, advises gun rights advocates to make themselves information resources to journalists. Tell them, “We will get you information,” and follow through with solidly researched material.
Tim Schmidt of the US Concealed Carry Association came out strongly for permitless carry. He spoke of having to kiss the ring of the king for an inalienable right, and saw permits as “goofy little concealed carry cards.”
John Fund of National Review celebrated the recently announced resignation of Eric Holder. His take: Democrats are taking the popularity polls and voting predictions, and wanted a new AG in place before a Republican-controlled Senate would have to approve his replacement. Fund noted that one out of ten House Democrats voted to find Holder in contempt of Congress. With document production now having been compelled by the Court in the Fast and Furious matter, he sees the Holder departure as “getting out of town ahead of the sheriff.” Fund contends that Eric Holder is/was the worst Attorney General in US history. When it is pointed out that Nixon’s AG, John Mitchell, went to prison, Fund counters that Mitchell was sentenced there for things he did as Nixon’s campaign manager, not anything he did as Attorney General.
After the conference, on his Gun Talk radio show, Tom Gresham gave the best answer as to why this conference was held in anti-gun Chicago. Alan Gottlieb’s Second Amendment Foundation funded the lawsuits that won concealed carry for Illinois, and handgun ownership rights for Chicagoans. Gresham explained simply, “It was a victory lap.”
Next year’s Gun Rights Policy Conference, the thirtieth, will take place the last full weekend of September 2015 in super-gun-friendly Phoenix. Attendance is no charge and you can pack your pistol without need for a permit. Hope to see you there.