Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley is using the criminal grand jury aggressively and frequently, reports the Los Angeles Times. The tactic enables prosecutors to obtain sworn testimony in secret proceedings and frustrates defense attorneys, who fear that their clients’ rights may be violated. Since July 2000, prosecutors have conducted nearly 90 grand jury indictment hearings, most of which have resulted in multiple defendants being charged. “Under Steve Cooley’s administration, it’s being used more than it’s been used before,” said Judge David S. Wesley, who supervises the criminal courts. “He knows the value of it.”
Former prosecutors went to the grand jury for select cases, but never to the current extent. Ex-District Attorney Gil Garcetti primarily reserved the grand jury for cases with uncooperative witnesses or for difficult or high-profile cases in which he wanted to test the evidence before bringing charges. The grand jury is especially effective in complicated “paper” cases or “pass the buck” cases – those that a prosecutor would prefer not to decide, said former District Attorney Ira Reiner.
Cooley said the grand jury is the ideal way to expose “dirty tricksters” because of its power to compel sworn testimony and subpoena documents in sensitive political corruption cases. By granting immunity, Cooley said, he can persuade some witnesses to divulge information that they otherwise might have kept from investigators.
Some defense attorneys complain about the frequency with which Cooley is turning to the grand jury. They are quick to use the old line that if prosecutors asked grand jurors to indict a ham sandwich, they would. No defense lawyers are present at grand jury proceedings to cross-examine witnesses, and no judges are there to make rulings. Prosecutors must tell grand jurors about any exculpatory evidence that exists, but they are not required to present that evidence.