In a shift for New York City’s criminal justice system, defense lawyers are allowing many suspects to testify before grand juries, with notable success, reports the New York Times. In years past, such testimony was rare grand juries were so willing to follow prosecutors’ requests that they would, in the words of a former judge, “indict a ham sandwich.” This year in Brooklyn, nearly 14 percent of felony suspects have testified before grand juries and slightly more than half of those cases have ended with no charges. The numbers vary in other boroughs, but observers agree that such testimony is now commonplace.
The trend may allow glib defendants to get away with murder, but defense lawyers say it shows that grand juries are doing their job, ensuring that people are indicted only with solid evidence. Law Prof. Sara Sun Beale of Duke University said the New York grand jury system might be viewed as a model to screen weak cases out of the justice system. “Maybe this means that the New York practice of allowing the defendant the right to have his lawyer in the grand jury and to testify is a really useful and desirable procedure that other states should think about adopting,” she said.