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What Exactly Is a Grand Jury?

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By Ashley Ravid on October 02, 2020 7:49 AM

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's announcement that no further charges would be brought against the officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor left many feeling confused and outraged by the actions of the justice system.

In the end, a grand jury only chose to indict one of the officers involved in Taylor's death on three counts of wanton endangerment. So, why didn't Cameron or local prosecutors file additional charges? Who has the power to file criminal charges in a case like this, and what or who is a grand jury anyway?

Grand, in a Manner of Speaking

You may be familiar with what a jury is — many U.S. citizens are called to serve on them and determine a defendant's innocence or guilt in committing a crime. But a grand jury doesn't have the same role of determining guilt.

Instead, its responsibility is similar to a preliminary hearing: A grand jury determines whether there is enough evidence or reason to file charges against someone. If a grand jury indicts someone, a trial will likely begin sooner, because it means there is a relatively strong case against the defendant.

However, if a grand jury chooses not to indict a person, that does not guarantee that the person will face no charges for that particular crime. A prosecutor can still choose to file charges and must successfully convince a judge that the indictment is solid.

Why Didn't the Grand Jury Seek Justice for Breonna?

A lawsuit was filed by one of the grand jurors who was deciding whether to file criminal charges against the officers who botched the execution of a no-knock warrant that ended in the killing of Taylor.

The unprecedented lawsuit seeks to publicize the transcripts from the grand jury deliberations. This is unusual because grand jury proceedings are usually kept strictly secret and involve much more evidence than is typically admitted in court.

Already, it has been revealed that Cameron did not recommend homicide charges to the grand jury, a move that has confused many. The publication of the grand jury proceedings would give much more insight into the night Taylor died, and possibly be a beacon of hope to those looking to understand why the officers involved have not faced greater repercussions.

Regardless of the outcome, further scrutiny on the justice system may provide more answers for all.

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