A grand jury in Ohio will decide if two white Cleveland police officers should be charged in the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun. The Associated Press takes a look at the work of grand juries, which have been part of the U.S. legal system since the nation was founded. Defense attorneys, bar associations and, some activists say grand juries have outlived their usefulness, especially after panels in Missouri and New York voted not to indict police officers in fatal encounters with black men. Many states no longer use them and require prosecutors to decide whether someone should be charged criminally.
Grand juries are required in Ohio, where grand juries are comprised of nine jurors and as many as five alternates selected from county voting rolls. Seven of the nine jurors must vote to indict. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, the state’s busiest jurisdiction with 12,000 new criminal cases filed last year, typically has two or three grand juries meeting simultaneously twice a week for eight hours. A grand jury in a small county might only meet once a week for a few hours. Prosecutors control what evidence grand juries see and who testifies before them. In Cuyahoga County, evidence in most cases consists of a police officer reading from a report. Witnesses are sometimes questioned in more complicated cases. Prosecutors aren’t required to present any evidence that might be favorable to a suspect. Last year, Cuyahoga County grand juries indicted more than 11,000 people while voting not to charge people 326 times.