Changes to Ohio’s grand jury process? Task force recommends review, possible overhaul

The Ohio Task Force on Police-Community Relations has recommended that the Ohio Supreme Court review Ohio's grand jury process, the Northeast Ohio Media Group reports. The task force, which was convened by Governor John Kasich to determine ways to improve relations between police and local communities, included this among several recommendations to accomplish these goals. The April 29 report included summaries of public and expert testimony surrounding grand juries, citing concerns that the process is unfair and secretive, particularly when police officers are facing indictments. Members of the public asserted that because law enforcement and prosecutors often work together, grand jury investigations of officer misconduct appear biased, and the fact that they are closed to the public fosters the perception of secrecy.

According to the report, multiple task force members recommended:

  • Judicial oversight of the grand jury process,
  • Creating an open and transparent grand jury process by authorizing the release of the grand jury testimony when, in the interest of justice, there is a particularized need, and the safety of witnesses would not be impacted, and
  • Requiring a grand jury to review all officer-involved deaths or serious injuries, in the absence of an independent investigation.

The Northeast Ohio Media Group reports that task force member and Ohio state Senator Sandra Williams has now asked Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor to evaluate the grand jury system and consider changes that would bring greater transparency to the process. Sen. Williams proposes a preliminary hearing to replace the traditional indictment, which currently only allows the prosecution to present evidence. The preliminary hearing would allow both sides to present evidence and question witnesses, lending more credibility to the process, according to Williams. At a minimum, Sen. Williams recommends making testimony to the grand jury public record.

Chief Justice O'Connor has expressed a willingness to review the grand jury system, but cautioned that any changes would involve amendments to the Ohio Constitution, which would have to be approved by voters.  The Media Group article contains the full recommendations of the task force. A reader poll on this issue is also available.

Photo credit: US-PD, via WikiMedia Commons.