Between the cases of the police officer-involved deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there has been a lot of talk about grand juries over the last six months or so. Before those two cases, though, journalist Gideon Lewis-Kraus served his civic duty on a grand jury in New York.
For 60 hours over a four week period, Lewis-Kraus and his peers heard 100 cases, on everything from attempted murder to petty theft, and almost all of those cases ended in indictment.
After the high-profile grand jury cases of last year, Lewis-Kraus felt compelled to write about his experience. But, jurors cannot disclose information about the cases they serve on. The intent is to ensure the full cooperation of the witnesses who appear before the grand jury, to protect the jurors from outside interference, and to protect an innocent person who may be investigated but never indicted. Violation of secrecy in a grand jury case is a Class E felony, punishable with imprisonment.
However, after receiving assurances from attorneys, Lewis-Kraus decided to write about his experience. His essay, "A Grand Juror Speaks: The inside story of how prosecutors always get their way," is in the latest edition of Harper's Magazine.
In that essay, Lewis-Kraus writes that, over the course of his grand jury service, he only really heard from the prosecution and a handful of witnesses, rarely the accused. Most often, the state’s version of events is the only story offered to jurors.
Lewis-Kraus also writes that many of the jurors he served with simply leaned towards expediting the process, clearing through cases as quickly as possible. Only some questioned the prosecution's push for indictment, introducing friction into the process, and that created some tense interpersonal relations among jurors.
Lewis-Kraus shared more on his firsthand experience and how the system installs prosecutors as "singularly powerful narrators."