News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 2 to 3 p.m.
Crime & Justice

Grand juror's firsthand account of the power of prosecutors




Protesters display a banner and placards during a demonstration outside the courthouse in New York's borough of Staten Island on January 5, 2015, before a hearing in a state lawsuit seeking the release of grand jury proceedings concerning the death of Eric Garner. Garner, a father of six who was suspected of illegally selling cigarettes, was wrestled to the ground by several white police officers after resisting arrest on Staten Island on July 17, 2014. Classified as a homicide by the New York medical examiner's office, his death set off intense reactions and several protests in New York reminiscent of those in Ferguson, Missouri, over the August 9 police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters display a banner and placards during a demonstration outside the courthouse in New York's borough of Staten Island on January 5, 2015, before a hearing in a state lawsuit seeking the release of grand jury proceedings concerning the death of Eric Garner. Garner, a father of six who was suspected of illegally selling cigarettes, was wrestled to the ground by several white police officers after resisting arrest on Staten Island on July 17, 2014. Classified as a homicide by the New York medical examiner's office, his death set off intense reactions and several protests in New York reminiscent of those in Ferguson, Missouri, over the August 9 police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Listen to story

09:16
Download this story 4MB

Between the cases of the police officer-involved deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there has been a lot of talk about grand juries over the last six months or so. Before those two cases, though, journalist Gideon Lewis-Kraus served his civic duty on a grand jury in New York.

For 60 hours over a four week period, Lewis-Kraus and his peers heard 100 cases, on everything from attempted murder to petty theft, and almost all of those cases ended in indictment.

After the high-profile grand jury cases of last year, Lewis-Kraus felt compelled to write about his experience. But, jurors cannot disclose information about the cases they serve on. The intent is to ensure the full cooperation of the witnesses who appear before the grand jury, to protect the jurors from outside interference, and to protect an innocent person who may be investigated but never indicted. Violation of secrecy in a grand jury case is a Class E felony, punishable with imprisonment. 

However, after receiving assurances from attorneys, Lewis-Kraus decided to write about his experience. His essay, "A Grand Juror Speaks: The inside story of how prosecutors always get their way," is in the latest edition of Harper's Magazine.

In that essay, Lewis-Kraus writes that, over the course of his grand jury service, he only really heard from the prosecution and a handful of witnesses, rarely the accused. Most often, the state’s version of events is the only story offered to jurors.

Lewis-Kraus also writes that many of the jurors he served with simply leaned towards expediting the process, clearing through cases as quickly as possible. Only some questioned the prosecution's push for indictment, introducing friction into the process, and that created some tense interpersonal relations among jurors.

Lewis-Kraus shared more on his firsthand experience and how the system installs prosecutors as "singularly powerful narrators."