As the country awaits the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, the question of what exactly a grand jury does is of prime interest. Al Tompkins, a Senior Faculty Member at the Poynter Institute and a leading authority on journalism worldwide, tackled the topic in a column for Poynter.
Tompkins interviewed James Hoyer Founding Partner Chris Hoyer to get his insights as a former federal and state prosecutor. Here is an excerpt:
Grand jury sessions are far less formal than open court sessions partly because there is no judge inside the grand jury room. The prosecutor for that jurisdiction is usually present and guides the grand jury through the law and the gathering of evidence. Still, grand juries can hear whomever they want and ask lots of questions.
Chris Hoyer, who was a federal prosecutor for 10 years and state prosecutor in Tampa, Florida, for eight years says grand jury rooms feel a lot like a classroom. “There are lots of questions, a lot of conversation, lots of participation,” he said. Often, he says, an investigator from the prosecutor’s office will come to the grand jury with a thick file of evidence. “The case agent summarizes what police have found, what witnesses said and what tests have been done.” In open court, each person who did that work would have to personally testify as to what they discovered but in a grand jury hearsay evidence is allowed.
Click here to read the entire column on the Poynter Institute website.