Reforms Needed for Davidson County Grand Jury

The Tennessean has recently published two articles on some questionable practices of the Davidson County. TN. grand jury. A grand jury's main role is to determine if probable cause exists in order to return an indictment. The concerns were raised by the grand jurors themselves in their final report. One concern from my point of view is the list of speakers that gave a presentation.

  • District Attorney Glenn Funk gave a overview of the role of the district attorney in grand jury proceedings.
  • Members of the Child Sex Abuse unit including a nurse at Our Kids gave a presentation of on sex abuse victims.
  • Nashville DUI officer Brad Nave gave a presentation on DUI cases. Mr.Nave even talked about the 91% accuracy of the standardized field sobriety tests to determine impairment. At the next presentation , I hope he tells the grand jury about a case I had with him on August,1 where he stated the client failed the field sobriety testing yet had zeros across the board for alcohol and drugs.
  • Members of the gang unit, drug task force, and the warrant division as well as Chief Anderson gave presentations.

In the final report, the grand jury expressed concern on preserving independence and avoiding bias. It seems difficult in light of the numerous presentations given during the term of the grand jury. Here is an excerpt from the report.

"The grand jury should remain impartial and unbiased during its deliberations and the close relationship with police procedure and proceedings put that in jeopardy," the jurors wrote in their end-of-term report, filed this month.

One concern raised by the Tennessean was grand jury foreman Stan Fossick. Since 1993 Mr. Fossick has been appointed grand jury foreman in at least 42 grand juries. it might be time for some new blood in the job of grand jury foreman. My own personal complaint of Mr. Fossick is I requested a client of mine testify to tell his side of a domestic violence case. My request was refused even state law allows one to testify before the grand jury on a vote of its members. Recently, he told his story and the court found him not guilty of domestic violence. I will always wonder what the grand jury would have done if they had listened to his story. The report spoke of the one sided point of view from the state. It was certainly on sided in one case.

The Tennessean called for reforms of the Davidson County Grand jury Here are my suggestions.

  1. End the practice of allowing police officers to speak before the grand jury unless the grand jury on its own initiative requests to investigate some aspect of the criminal justice system.
  2. It might be a good time to let someone else take a turn as grand jury foreman.
  3. While not addressed by the report, it has been a long time practice of allowing others not involved in the case to testify from the grand jury by just reading the arrest report.



Should Tennessee Abolish the Grand Jury ?

Over the last two weeks , there has been more stories on the grand jury process due to two high profile cases. It got me thinking about the grand jury process in Tennessee . Should it be abolished ?

The grand jury was established to be another check to determine if there was sufficient probable cause to charge a citizen of a crime. There are two checks on that currently without the grand jury . First , a magistrate determines probable cause when the arrest warrant is issued. Secondly , the general sessions judge makes a determination of probable cause after a preliminary hearing.

Presenting the case to the grand jury is a unnecessary step. Once the general sessions judge finds probable cause just set the case on the docket in circuit or criminal court. No delays. In Davidson County , a case can languish for months until the case is presented to the grand jury. From my perspective the grand jury is a rubber stamp for the district attorney . It's secret. The defense cant present it's case . In some cases the witnesses don't even testify.

Abolishing the grand jury would avoid direct presentments . A direct presentment is where the district attorney takes a case directly to the grand jury bypassing a arrest warrant and a preliminary hearing. It is routine in some cases for the district attorney to take a case to the grand jury. Sex crimes are the most common example. Here is an example of a grand jury report from Nashville. Maybe it's time to take a fresh look to determine if the grand jury process is really needed.