Monday, September 17, 2007

Was the Rider Related Case A Runaway Grand Jury?

A Grand Jury in Mercer County, New Jersey brought an indictment against school officials, including a dean of students, at Rider University for activities related to the death of a student. (see here)  And it was not surprising to see these charges later dismissed by prosecutors, as the idea of indicting school officials in this context was unusual. (see here).  The ABA L Jrl News is now questioning whether these charges were in fact the result of a runaway grand jury. (see here)

The saying has long been that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.  But runaway grand juries do happen on occasion.  White collar cases, unlike cases of street crimes, are more likely to use the grand jury process for an investigation.  In street crime cases, the police usually conduct the investigation and present the evidence in a shortened form to the grand jury that decides whether to issue an indictment.  In contrast, in white collar cases the grand jury can be used extensively to procure information via subpoena and to have witnesses testify in the investigation of possible criminal activity.   Although there is no legal requirement to present exculpatory evidence (U.S. v. Williams) to a grand jury, there is an ethical standard that provides that "[n]o prosecutor should knowingly fail to disclose to the grand jury evidence which tends to negate guilt or mitigate the offense." (ABA Standard 3-3.6). There is no allegation here of the prosecutor failing to present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury. But perhaps what is the interesting question is the prosecutorial discretion that a prosecutor has in deciding what cases he or she will investigate before a grand jury.


Addedum - See here for details on an upcoming program on "The Impact of Criminal Law on Student Affairs Professionals: Insights into Investigations and Indictments."

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