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The Grand Jury:
A Tool for Tyrants

by Bill Barnwell

It is not uncommon for the government to ruin or destroy peopleís lives. We have seen it recently with Waco. We have seen it with Ruby Ridge. We have seen Clinton use the military for public relations purposes. We have seen Serbia smashed, its sovereignty violated and its infrastructure destroyed because it failed to take orders from the United States regarding how it should conduct its internal affairs. We have long witnessed a dangerous and unconstitutional "war on drugs" which destroys individual liberties and guts the American taxpayer to control private conduct of private citizens. But one overlooked tool that government tyrants use to destroy lives has been one of the oldest institutions in our legal history, the Grand Jury.

The Grand Jury, which came from England, had its origins all the way from the late 1100s. The early English Grand Jury served the purpose to not only charge individuals with crimes, but to expand the tentacles of the central government throughout England. In 1166 King Henry II established a panel of 12 individuals that would inform the King who was suspected of particular crimes such as murder and robbery. This panel superceded all original existing jurisdictions. If the panel failed to indict who the government wanted them to, they faced fines or possible imprisonment. The trials arising from these indictments were sham trials, where the accused had virtually no chance to prove their innocence.

As time went on, the investigative nature of the Kingís twelve men grew into other areas, such as tax assessing and the condition of public works. During this period was the origin of the Grand Jury secrecy. Of course this was a sham, the information and evidence gathered by the Grand Jurors was almost always passed along to stooges sent in by the King. These Kingís stooges would then investigate the investigators to examine how the information was gathered and whether or not the government was satisfied with the findings.

Slight progress was made in 1215 when King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta, which was the origin for the concept now known as Due Process. Over a hundred years later, the jurisdiction of the Kingís twelve men became superceded by a group of twenty-four knights called "le grande inquest." The twelve men then became known as the "petit jury" which then began convicting people of crimes.

During the 1600s, the concept of Due Process was more intensely debated and it became a consensus that two proceedings were warranted when dealing with suspected criminals. With the first phase, the Grand Jury was to deliberate whether or not there was probable cause to believe that the individual being investigated was guilty. The second phase was to be carried out by the petit jury that then decided if there was sufficient evidence to convict. Regardless of that, the King and his cronies would still crack down on jurors who would not cooperate or refused to convict.

By the early 1600s, the Grand Jury system came to the British colonies in America. Thankfully, the early colonial Grand Juryís focused more on Monarchical abuses, instead of serving as the Monarchyís tool of terrorism. Throughout colonial history, Grand Juries became more localized, and as the time of Revolution came closer, Grand Juries became enemies of the Monarchy, safeguarding against its excesses. After the Revolution, our Constitution was written which established three branches of government, which checked and balanced each other. There was no federal Grand Jury until the Fifth Amendment was passed which stated that, "no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury."

The Fifth Amendment firmly established Grand Jury secrecy. If one looks at Supreme Court history, they will find that this secrecy was challenged numerous times. In United States v. Smith, the Court ruled that the defendant could challenge the secrecy rule if it was not properly protecting the accused. Throughout legal history, other challenges were brought against the secrecy rule, but they mostly swung in the favor of the prosecution. In 1917, the Supreme Court ruled that a newspaper be found in contempt of court for disclosing aspects of a Grand Jury probe. In future challenges, the courtís ruled in such a way that hindered the defendant from seeking an indictment dismissed due to overly aggressive prosecutors who allegedly obtained evidence illegally.

By the mid-1930ís, Rule 6(e) was established that "matters occurring before the grand jury" be kept secret. Anyone in violation was to be found in criminal contempt. The only individuals who could talk about matters before the Grand Jury in public were the individuals who were subject to interrogation. In theory, this all seems very fair. Prosecutors can not go run their mouths to reporters about what is going on inside the Grand Jury room, and those who are under public scrutiny can admit they were called before the Grand Jury and defend themselves against possible wrong doing. However, that is not the way things work.

As it stands now, Grand Juries and the thugs in the federal government that run them, can destroy any personís reputation and terrorize as many people as it pleases, simply by coming in and placing them under a cloud of suspicion. Federal Grand Juries can sit up to three years, and afterwards can seek extensions of six months for up to another year and a half. And like the Kingís men of the old days, our new inquisitors donít like to pack up and leave until they find something – anything – that would allow them to bring down a charge, thus justifying their existence.

Often times, informants who are nothing more than rumor mongers with bones to pick trigger these investigations. For years the FBI has been digging around my hometown in Michigan, spending millions and millions of taxpayer dollars, to chase public officials they donít like. Last year, a Grand Jury convened to investigate our police commissioner while the FBI followed the individual around for months. The FBI received an "anonymous tip" that the Police Commissioner had shady bank dealings, but then later focused on a mobile home purchased by the Commissioner in Florida. The feds alleged that the Commissioner had scammed the state out of a few thousand dollars in state sales taxes.

As it turns out, the feds had no business investigating the matter to begin with since it was an alleged state crime and not a federal one. Also, in the state of Michigan, individuals are charged with information rather than by state Grand Juries. Throughout the investigation, this individual was forced to resign because of the intensity of the public scrutiny. But later a judge threw out the charges that were brought against the Police Commissioner citing no criminal motives and the fact that he had previously paid thousands of dollars in state sales taxes to Florida. Typical of federal investigations, this one served no purpose except to destroy the life and career of an individual, who to this day is seen as a crook for his alleged wrongdoings.

But the feds were not happy after the scam of investigating a state issue that was later dropped. They have refused to pack up and leave and instead have kept their Grand Jury running, subpoenaing dozens of city workers and elected officials stemming from alleged rumors of misconduct. As the months go by, no information is given about the status of the investigation because of secrecy rules. Those who have been called down to answer questions in front of the Grand Jury remain under a cloud of suspicion and have no clue whether or not they have been cleared of charges or whether they are under continued scrutiny. Hundreds of thousands of dollars for the investigation continue to pile up at the taxpayerís expense and more and more individuals are terrorized by the government.

As most already know, it doesnít take a whole lot of evidence for a prosecutor to bring an indictment in a Grand Jury. The standard to bring an indictment is much lower than the standard to bring a conviction. But just being indicted is enough to kill a career and destroy a life, even if they are later exonerated. Individuals that are called in front of a Grand Jury are not allowed to have a lawyer present. The individual being questioned is usually placed in the center of the room or on a slightly raised stage where the Grand Jurors and prosecutors surround them. The whole experience is meant to intimidate witnesses into giving the feds the information they want to hear. And if they donít get it, it is likely that the individual under questioning will face continued harassment. The rules of the game have not changed much since King Henry II.

Make no mistake, the Grand Jury is just another tool for the government to terrorize and intimidate its citizens. It has no checks and balances and can just do as it pleases, spending an infinite amount of taxpayer dollars and spending years and years to complete its task, which often times results in nothing or bogus charges. The Grand Jury is an expensive tool for tyranny, both financially and in terms of the individual liberties, which are sacrificed at its whim. If you are still ignorant enough to believe that the government would never do such nasty things, just talk to some individuals who have had their lives and careers ruined by bogus investigations. The Grand Jury should be killed or drastically reformed sooner rather than later. Doing so would take away an instrument of terror from the government. But even if that were to happen, champions of liberty would have a long way to go before they could even begin to reclaim some of their rights back from our rulers and masters in the government.

June 23, 2000

Bill Barnwell is a freelance journalist and co-editor in chief of

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