News from the courts/agencies

Thursday, June 28, 2018
Committee proposes best practices in jury proceedings

newsfromcourtsThe justices of the Supreme Judicial Court announced on Wednesday that the Committee on Grand Jury Proceedings has submitted its final report in which it proposes best practices with respect to grand jury presentments.

All of the recommended best practices are currently employed by one or more prosecutor offices. They are designed to assist grand juries in performing their dual functions of determining probable cause to charge someone with a crime and protecting persons from unfounded criminal prosecution.

The recommended best practices are intended to facilitate compliance with existing law and to promote better decision-making by grand juries. The best practices address issues such as: what to do when grand jury subpoenas yield evidence that the prosecutor deems too inflammatory to present to the grand jury; when grand jurors should be instructed on defenses to the crime or on less serious offenses than the most serious potential charge; what warnings should be given to targets of investigations; and when and how grand jurors should be instructed on the law.

The committee’s chair, Superior Court Judge Robert L. Ullmann, said the committee’s work benefitted from a range of public comment, and in particular from comments submitted by the district attorneys.

In highlighting these best practices, the committee aimed to respect the independence of the grand jury, prosecutors’ traditional discretion to decide what charges to present to the grand jury, and the court's duty to preserve the integrity of grand jury proceedings and ensure that the grand jury has the guidance necessary to carry out its responsibilities. 

The committee’s report summarizes grand jury practices currently employed by the 11 district attorneys and the Office of the Attorney General, and provides commentary to help interpret and apply the best practices.

The committee includes representatives of the judiciary, the attorney general, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and others with experience in grand jury proceedings.