Grand jury seeks written guidelines
July 29, 2001
The July 2001 term of the Lauderdale County Grand Jury wrapped up its work last week after a five-day session that produced 323 indictments and 19 non-indictments. Stated another way, the Grand Jury issued indictments in 94.4 percent of the cases it heard. Grand jurors, of course, only hear the prosecution side of a case and then make a judgment on the probability that the defendant committed the crime.
In its final report, the Grand Jury made a comment that bears repeating and, ironically enough, begins to speak to criticism leveled by former District Attorney Joe Clay Hamilton in an article published in The Meridian Star on June 24.
The Grand Jury recommended that subsequent grand jurors "be given written guidelines as to their duties and obligation at the beginning of Grand Jury deliberations." The lack of written guidelines or formal training were among Hamilton's criticisms, along with the haste with which he said indictments were produced. Hamilton, now in private practice, essentially said the system does not allow enough time for jurors to explore beyond the surface facts provided by investigating law officers.
A letter from members of the Grand Jury delivered to The Star and published today on the opposite page responds to Hamilton's piece. But, judging from the July Grand Jury's final report, the criticism did strike a nerve in a legal/judicial system almost all agree needs repair.