Are 904 York Co. grand jury indictments in one day averaging 39 seconds each legal?
A York County judge has thrown out more than 900 indictments from a June grand jury, saying prosecutors asking grand jurors to consider so many cases in one day is “unnecessary and an unreasonable burden.”
Defense lawyers say an average of 39 seconds per case showed the grand jury failed to properly review the cases. Prosecutors say the June grand jury was lawful and the grand jury chose to work through a 10-hour day to finish the caseload.
However, the ruling does not throw out the pending criminal charges against more than 400 people in the 900-plus cases. The order does not dismiss charges against the defendants that were made when arrested, the order states.
It is “not an order affecting the probable cause when warrants were issued, or probable cause found at preliminary hearings,” the order states.
The ruling by Circuit Court Judge Dan Hall, filed Friday, states the community must have confidence the rights of defendants are being upheld and the grand jury has opportunity to properly review cases.
“Public confidence in our system of justice is eroded by the grand jury being asked to act on 904 indictments in a 10-hour period,” Hall wrote.
It is unclear whether prosecutors or defense lawyers will appeal the ruling. Hall did not order that a new grand jury be seated as defense lawyers wanted.
The Herald’s coverage of 27 defense lawyers asking for the indictments to be tossed became a national story after the story was picked up on Fox News, Drudge Report, the New York Times, Washington Post, and hundreds of other media outlets.
Gary Lemel, one of the lead defense lawyers, issued a statement Friday saying the judge’s ruling ensures people accused of crimes have their rights upheld.
“We are pleased with the quashing of the indictments and the court’s reminder that the prosecution is only one part of the mechanism of the court system,” Lemel said. “That part can not burden the other parts, especially while denying rights to defendants.”
Prosecutors argued no indictment should be thrown out because the grand jurors had worked hard considering each case and the 39 second average was not applicable because many cases involved multiple defendants and multiple charges.
Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit solicitor, said in a written statement Friday after the order was issued that his office argued the indictments were “lawful” and the office did not force the grand jury to hear all 904 cases in June.
The June grand jury was told by court officials it could handle as many cases as it chose, but had the option of carrying over cases it could not handle until the next month, Brackett said in the statement.
“While the Solicitor’s Office prepares indictments for presentment to the grand jury and requests the presence of law enforcement representatives, the Solicitor’s Office does not preside over or control the grand jury,” Brackett said in the statement. “This grand jury understood it was not required to reach all submitted indictments on that day and had the option to put off consideration of indictments to the next month ... the grand jurors chose to continue their work until all submitted indictments had received consideration.”
Brackett said his office did not tell or force the grand jury to handle all those cases.
“The Solicitor’s Office has never dictated how the grand jury should conduct its business,” Brackett said in the statement. “We believe this grand jury worked very hard, considered these cases fairly, and was capable of controlling its own workload and pace that day.”
No appeal decision has been made by either side. The solictor’s office is consulting with the Office of the Attorney General concerning the meaning and implications of the order before deciding how to proceed, Brackett said.
“After we have reviewed the law surrounding this issue we will file any motions or appeal we deem prudent under the law,” Brackett’s statement said.
Lemel said he and the 26 other lawyers have not yet determined whether to appeal the part of the ruling where Hall did not seat a new grand jury.