By J. Taylor Basker
I received the dreaded letter demanding that I show up for grand jury duty right after the New Year. I had misplaced my response to their questionnaire that probably would have disqualified me, so I received a jury duty notice. I could have gotten out of it, but since it was a grand jury, which I had never been on, I was interested due to all the critical issues being considered by grand juries in today’s current political crisis.
I had been on several jury cases in my life and actually received a lifetime exemption after a long case related to Lyndon Larouche for which I was sequestered in a minus-one-star hotel at JFK for a week. However I couldn’t find any of the court letters to prove I didn’t need to go, so I went.
I am not a fan of courts, both reading about their injustices and personally experiencing how unfair they can be. I arrived with my usual rebellious, leftist attitude and entered a large room at 80 Centre Street filled with nearly every extant specimen of New Yorker. It was like a Petri dish social experiment combining species that would interact negatively, even destructively, with each other in normal conditions. But here we all sat obediently in silence.
New York City courts represent everything Trump hates: racial and immigrant diversity, rich and poor together with equal rights and responsibilities. No preferences. Your money and prestige mean nothing. Dior and Dollar Store couture sit side by side with equal value and vote.
What was shocking to learn was that out of 500 notices sent, only 80 people showed up! New Yorkers are passing up a wonderful opportunity to understand how our courts can save our democracy! This experience has helped me regain hope in “the system.”
Recently Mueller’s grand jury was extended for six months, but I never understood what grand juries actually did, although we hear about them daily. Indictments are continually announced. But for me, and I think most Americans, what exactly this means is unclear.
The grand jury decides if there is enough evidence to suggest that a crime has been committed. If not, the case gets thrown out. This is a fair and efficient way to avoid bogus accusations and trials. If there is enough evidence they vote to issue an accusation or indictment. You need 16 votes out of 23 jurors.
What I found fascinating during this Trump era was the defined role in law of a grand jury. It examines, not only evidence concerning criminal offenses, but “…misconduct, nonfeasance & neglect in public office, whether criminal or otherwise…”
Grand juries have been in existence for over 800 years. Beginning around 1215 AD both trial juries (also called petit juries) and grand juries were used in England. The grand jury examined the evidence and made a formal accusation known as “bill of indictment” or “presentment “and the trial jury decided if the accusation was proven.
Only one out of 20 jurors is a grand juror. Their responsibility is great. They decide if a person can be brought to trial for a felony and they prevent bogus accusations from going to court.
At this writing Mueller’s grand jury indicted about 37 individuals and several entities. This grand jury experience helps me realize how serious these indictments are—they indicate that there is convincing evidence that a crime has been committed. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democratic Senator from Rhode Island, said on a TV interview “I do not at all subscribe to the theory that a president cannot be indicted.” Yet the courts have forced the government to reunite 2,500 families separated at the border. The American court system is slow and cumbersome and imperfect. Yet Justice is advancing on Trump and ordinary American citizens are sealing his fate on grand juries.