Do We Really Need a Grand Jury in South Carolina?

by | May 30, 2018 | Criminal Defense |

At best, South Carolina’s grand jury system is antiquated, unnecessary, and a waste of time.

At worst, it’s a tool that prosecutors use to push weak cases to trial even after a judge says there isn’t enough evidence.

It’s time for the US – or at least SC – to catch up with the rest of the world and scrap the grand jury, or at the very least make significant improvements to the process.

What Is the Grand Jury in SC?

The concept of the grand jury was brought to America by early English colonists. Only two countries – the United States and Liberia – still use grand juries.

Originally, the grand jury system allowed everyday citizens to decide whether someone should be charged with a crime, thereby limiting the power of society’s elites to railroad regular people.

In South Carolina, a grand jury is made up of 18 people. In a secret proceeding, they hear a very brief summary of the alleged crimes. They almost never hear from the arresting officer, the defense, or anyone else with personal knowledge about the case. If 12 of the 18 grand jurors agree to “true bill” the indictment, the case will go to trial.

Isn’t the Grand Jury Process in SC a Bit One-Sided?

It seems very unlikely that a grand jury would not recommend a case go to trial considering that they only hear one side – the accusations.

Indeed, SC grand juries rarely return a “no bill,” meaning the case should not go to trial. In fact, the Greenville County grand jury has reviewed more than 20,000 indictments since 2013, and it has returned 99.99 percent of the cases as true bills.

That’s why a lot of SC attorneys and other critics say the grand jury process is just a rubber stamp for prosecutors.

It’s Not Just A Rubber Stamp

It’s worse than that.

Even before the grand jury convenes, defendants in SC can appear at a preliminary hearing intended to determine if there is probable cause. They get an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and present their side of the story. This is a chance for judges to recognize a weak case and dismiss it – which they often do.

However, even after a judge finds that there is no probable cause for charges to go forward, SC law allows the prosecutor to then take the case to a grand jury. The grand jurors will not hear the evidence the judge heard during the preliminary hearing, and they will almost certainly return an indictment.

So, the grand jury process is not just a rubber stamp for prosecutors, it’s also a way they can move a bad case forward even after the court says no.

It’s Time to Move On

Maybe it’s time SC abandoned the grand jury and instead let judges’ decisions during preliminary hearings stand – that’s what England and almost every country that once borrowed the English grand jury system now do.

If we must keep the grand jury, we should make the process more transparent and effective. It should not be a big secret, the jurors should hear evidence from both sides, and the defense should have an opportunity to appear and hear the accusations against him or her.

Criminal Defense Attorneys in Myrtle Beach, Conway, Columbia, and Charleston, SC

Unfortunately, our grand jury system as it stands results in far too many innocent people getting caught up in unnecessary, expensive, and time-consuming trials.

If you have been accused of a crime in SC, call your criminal defense lawyer at Coastal Law ASAP – the sooner we get involved in a case, the more effective we can be. Call now at (843) 488-5000 or contact us through our website to set up a free consultation to discuss your case.

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Charleston, SC 29401

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Columbia, SC 29201

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