The Federal Grand Jury is the 4th Branch of Government
by Leo C. Donofrio, J.D.
January 22, 2009
The Constitutional power of "we the people" sitting as grand jurors has been subverted by a deceptive play on words since 1946 when the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure were enacted. Regardless, the power I am going to explain to you still exists in the Constitution, and has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court despite the intention of the legislature and other legal scholars to make our power disappear with a cheap magic trick.
Repeat a lie with force and repetition and the lie becomes known as truth. In the case of the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, the power of the grand jury, to return "presentments" on its own proactive initiation, without reliance upon a US Attorney to concur in such criminal charges, has been usurped by an insidious play on words.
Most of this article is going to quote other scholars, judges and legislators as I piece together a brief but thorough history of the federal grand jury for your review. But the punch line is my personal contribution to the cause:
"Investigating seditious acts of government officials can be deemed inappropriate or unavailing by the prosecutor, or the judge can dismiss the grand jurors pursuing such investigations. Consequently, corrupt government officials have few natural enemies and go about their seditious business unimpeded."
HISTORY OF FEDERAL GRAND JURY POWER
Mr. Roots weighs in again:
Rule 7 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (FRCP):
'There was an annotation by the Reporter on the term presentment as used in the Fifth Amendment. It was his conclusion that the term should not be used in the new rules of criminal procedure. Retention might encourage the use of the run-away grand jury as the grand jury could act from their own knowledge or observation and not only from charges made by the United States attorney. It has become the practice for the United States Attorney to attend grand jury hearings, hence the use of presentments have been abandoned.' "
The American Juror publication included a very relevant commentary:
"Finally, federal grand juries' subservience to prosecutors was exacerbated when the federal system eliminated the use of presentments, which allowed a grand jury to bring charges on its own initiative. (N35) Now, federal grand jurors cannot return charges in the form of an indictment without a prosecutor's consent. (N36) Elimination of the presentment demonstrates the historical trend towards elimination of proactive features in the grand jury system."
The use of presentments had become obsolete because the grand jurors were not aware of their power. So the use of "presentments" became more and more rare, and then in 1946 the legislative branch seized upon the moment to make this power disappear by waving its magic wand over the Constitution.
Mr. Root got it wrong in the Creighton Law Review as well:
But we have it on good authority, the Supreme Court, that the lie has no legal effect.
"The institution of the grand jury is deeply rooted in Anglo-American history. [n3] In England, the grand jury [p343] served for centuries both as a body of accusers sworn to discover and present for trial persons suspected of criminal wrongdoing and as a protector of citizens against arbitrary and oppressive governmental action. In this country, the Founders thought the grand jury so essential to basic liberties that they provided in the Fifth Amendment that federal prosecution for serious crimes can only be instituted by 'a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.' Cf. Costello v. United States, 350 U.S. 359, 361-362 (1956). The grand jury's historic functions survive to this day. Its responsibilities continue to include both the determination whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and the protection of citizens against unfounded criminal prosecutions. Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 686-687 (1972)."
Antonin Scalia effectively codified the unique independent power of the Fourth Branch into the hands of all citizens sitting as federal grand jurors. In discussing that power and unique independence granted to the grand jury, the United States Supreme Court, in United States v. Williams, 504 U.S. 36 at 48 (1992), Justice Scalia, delivering the opinion of the court, laid down the law of the land: