County jury process challenged


Sunday, 11-Feb-01 00:36:29

    24.14.28.77 writes:

    County jury process challenged

    Defense lawyers seek to dismiss about 300 felony
    indictments in Josephine County, alleging grand jurors were
    briefed prejudicially

    Saturday, February 10, 2001

    By Beth Quinn, Correspondent, The Oregonian

    GRANTS PASS -- Defense attorneys claiming that
    Josephine County grand juries have been systematically
    prejudiced by secret briefings since 1989 have challenged
    about 300 felony indictments in criminal cases pending
    before Josephine County Circuit Court.

    Motions for dismissal of virtually every open felony case
    were received at the Josephine County Courthouse on
    Thursday and Friday, all alleging violations of the U.S.
    Constitution's guarantee of due process and equal
    protection, similar protections in the Oregon Constitution
    and the Oregon statutes governing grand jury procedures.

    At issue is the practice of allowing police officers and
    others not sworn in as witnesses and whose names did not
    appear as witnesses on indictments to provide general
    orientations about drug and sexual abuse to grand jurors.

    "It's a systematic prejudicing and indoctrination and tainting
    of a group of people who are supposed to be independent
    and separate from the state and the district attorney. It's
    supposed to be a check and a balance," said attorney
    Holly A. Preslar of Josephine County Defense Lawyers Inc.
    "It prejudices the rights of the defendants from the
    beginning."

    Oregon law requires prosecutors to test their criminal
    cases before a grand jury or at a preliminary hearing. In a
    grand jury, up to 12 citizens meet in sessions closed to the
    public to hear only the prosecutor's case before deciding
    whether sufficient evidence exists to continue with the
    criminal charges. In a preliminary hearing, evidence of a
    crime is presented to a judge who also hears testimony
    from the accused's defense attorney.

    Josephine County District Attorney Clay Johnson said the
    grand jury orientations have stopped but that past
    orientations aren't sufficient grounds for dismissing the
    pending cases.

    "I can see why some people would say it's inappropriate,
    and it's not worth the effort to fight about," Johnson said.
    "We are contesting the motions. We don't believe there are
    any grounds to set aside the grand jury indictments."

    All four Josephine County Circuit Court judges -- Allan H.
    Coon, Gerald C. Neufeld, William J. MacKay and Loyd
    O'Neal -- have recused themselves from hearing the
    motions for dismissal, where Johnson and many of his staff
    of assistant district attorneys are expected to be called as
    witnesses. Instead, the motions will be heard by Coos
    County Presiding Judge Richard L. Barron, although no
    hearing dates have been set.

    The proceedings of grand juries are secret, but Josephine
    County's special orientations came to light in January
    through the newsletter of Family Friends, a local non-profit
    organization that provides therapy and other support to
    child victims of sexual abuse.

    "The grand jury members received training by Family
    Friends prior to case presentation. Topics include how to
    listen to horror without shutting a child down, stages of
    sexual abuse, behaviors a child may exhibit, delayed
    disclosure and controversy over a child's credibility. An
    educated grand jury will better serve the children and
    courts," the newsletter said.

    Preslar said that passage troubled Grants Pass defense
    attorney Claudia E. Browne, who queried by fax all
    members of the Josephine County criminal bar and by
    e-mail most criminal defense attorneys in Oregon. All
    agreed that such grand jury orientations violated state law
    governing grand juries and the constitutional rights of
    criminal defendants, she said.

    Meanwhile, the Josephine County criminal bar learned that
    members of JOINT -- the Josephine County Interagency
    Narcotics Team -- have provided grand jury orientations on
    drug abuse since 1989.

    The arguments against such orientations got a trial run last
    week when attorney Robert Bain raised the issue during a
    criminal case before Josephine County Judge Coon, who
    was concerned enough to grant a continuance.

    "Judge Coon used some pretty strong language in the
    hearing," Preslar said. "We've just been round the clock
    working on this ever since."

    About 25 defense lawyers have filed dismissal motions,
    including both attorneys in private practice, the Josephine
    County Public Defender's office and Preslar's group, which
    also represents indigent defendants.

    Preslar said defense attorneys confined themselves to
    current indictments because a review of case law shows
    that appeals courts have held that indictments by tainted
    grand juries aren't cause for overturning convictions handed
    down by a second jury which heard evidence from both the
    defense and the prosecution.

    The practice of such grand jury orientations may not be
    confined to Josephine County. Preslar said defense
    attorneys in Jackson County are looking into allegations
    that JACNET - the Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement
    Team -- provided orientations to grand juries seated in
    Medford. And District Attorney Johnson said he knew of
    similar orientations in at least one other county. He refused
    to name that county but did say it was not Jackson
    County.


    Do you have news of Jackson, Josephine or southern
    Klamath counties? You can reach Beth Quinn at
    541-474-5926 or by e-mail at bquinn@terragon.com

    Source:
    http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/news/oregonian/01/02/nw_71jury10.frame 

    Beth Quinn

County jury process challenged

(Beth Quinn) (11-Feb-01 00:36:29)

 

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