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Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Sen. Roosevelt David wants to establish a grand jury system in Territorial Court. It's an idea whose time has NOT come.
The way it is now, the Attorney General's Office decides whether there's enough evidence to put someone on trial for a crime. Under the grand jury system, a panel of citizens would decide whether the accused should be indicted and stand trial.
Many states on the mainland use grand juries. Federal court here recently started using them. But it is a bad idea for Territorial Court, and for two reasons.
The first is money. Grand juries cost money; the Attorney General's Office would have to be expanded. Our government doesn't have the funds right now to put a grand jury system into effect.
But even if the funds were available, grand juries might not be a good idea for the Virgin Islands.
Sen. David's complaint against the current system is that many citizens believe some people escape trial because they know someone. This public perception would dissipate if the decision whether to prosecute was made by a grand jury, according to David.
Well, yes and no.
Here's a quick lesson on how grand juries work: There would be no judge to make certain the process is fair. The chief officer in the grand jury room would be an assistant attorney general. Witnesses, who may or may not include the accused, cannot take lawyers with them inside the grand jury room. So it's the grand jury, the prosecutor, and some witnesses — and the proceedings are secret.
Many legal experts don't like the American grand jury system. They say your average grand jury member is no match for a trained prosecutor. They say it's inevitable that if a good prosecutor wants an indictment, that prosecutor's going to get one. And if the prosecutor doesn't want an indictment, well, you get the idea.
Most prosecutors like the grand jury system. That way, they don't get blamed in the community for the results.
The way to achieve better justice in the Virgin Islands is to strengthen the Attorney General's Office and have professional prosecutors continue to make the decision whether to send a person to trial, basing that decision on the evidence — and nothing else.
Editor's note: Frank J. Jordan is a local radio commentator, former UVI journalism professor and former NBC News executive.

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