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Cruz Bay
Wednesday, July 6, 2022


A bill to create a grand jury system for the Territorial Court has been drafted and should be presented to the Legislature soon after budget hearings are completed this fall, according to its sponsor, Sen. Roosevelt David.
Having a grand jury decide whether to prosecute persons charged with crimes should go a long way toward quelling the public's anger and frustration often felt now when a V.I. attorney general drops charges rather than taking them to court.
"There is too much political influence in the decision-making process of who should be prosecuted and who shouldn't," David said. "You have people out there who have done heinous crimes and for some reason they've been able to elude the law because of connections."
Another condition that has sometimes made attorneys general hesitant to prosecute is the Virgin Islands' close-knit community, David said.
"No one wants to touch a relative," he said.
A grand jury is a panel of citizens that hears the prosecution's evidence in criminal cases and decides whether it is sufficient for a case to go to trial. If its decision is "yes," it indicts the defendant, and the case proceeds.
The only grand jury system operating in the territory now involves cases before the U.S. District Court.
With the decision on whether to prosecute being made by "people from all walks of life and with different ideologies," David said, there will be "more objectivity and the decision would be non-partisan."
In past interviews and speeches, V.I. Attorney General Iver Stridiron has advocated the creation of a grand jury. "In the absence of a grand jury, it is the attorney general for the most part who holds a lot of authority and has the power to affect the lives of those who are accused of crimes," he said last month at his swearing-in ceremony.
Sens. Anne Golden and Norman Jn.-Baptiste are among David's colleagues in the 23rd Legislature who have previously supported a grand jury system.
"A grand jury is powerful," Golden said in April. "It's going to build a system of accountability and restore public trust."
Sens. Gregory Bennerson and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg have said they favor the concept of a grand jury but question whether the territory has the funds to implement such a system.
Julio Brady, who as attorney general in the Schneider administration came under fire for some of his decisions not to prosecute, has also advocated publicly the creation of a grand jury system.
David takes the view that a grand jury will produce an increase in prosecutions — although that is not certain — and that crime, as a result, will be deterred. "It will have an impact on crime because people will face justice," he said.

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