Citizen Grand Jury
In 1920, Temperance activists had won in their national effort to outlaw the sale and distribution of alcohol with the enactment of the Volstead Act. But in Paragon City, those same activists were horrified to discover that bars and nightclubs were still open and publicly flaunting the law. Repeated efforts to enforce the law fell flat when prosecutors refused to bring any of the distributors or club owners to trial.
Thus in 1925, city officials, over the objections of Mayor Rabinowitz, passed an amendment to the City Charter to allow for the formation of a special grand jury when brought forth by public petition. The first citizen grand jury was summoned almost immediately after the changes to the charter took effect, with charges being made against members of The Family in the spring of 1926.
Following the debut of Statesman and other superhero adventurers in the early 1930's, police and prosecutors were hard-pressed to bring the criminals apprehended by heroes to trial. Slick attorneys used the law to have cases thrown out that involved masked vigilantes, since they were not considered part of law enforcement.
Rather than to have cases thrown out in court, the District Attorney's Office made it a policy to dismiss all charges against those arrested by heroes. Despite the public outcry over this apparent miscarriage of justice, the prosecutors held firm to the legal position that the involvement of heroes taint any evidence that would be used against criminals.
Thus in 1935, the Citizen Grand Jury was used again to force the prosecutors to bring charges against those known criminals that were being stopped by the heroes. This practice continued until the passage of the Citizen Crime Fighting Act in 1937.
The Citizen Grand Jury was summoned to stop the McCarthy-Era persecutions of heroes suspected of being communists. Although no indictments were issued, the public pressure was more than enough to silence the hysteria being generated by prosecutors.
Following the international incident in Finland, a conservative group attempted to petition for a citizen grand jury to try to indict members of the Freedom Phalanx. The attempt failed when the group could not get enough signatures.
In 2011, the Citizen Grand Jury was summoned by Alice Banks on behalf of the pro-family organizations she represented. This Grand Jury would focus on the role of teenage heroes in Paragon City and the supergroups that allow such underage heroes to operate. Although the Grand Jury heard from various current and former underage heroes, including Ms. Liberty and Pyrogurl, they still returned a no true bill verdict. Still, the publicity was more than enough to enact new legislation that prohibited the registration of underage heroes.
Role and Procedure
The role of the Citizen Grand Jury is to investigate and bring possible criminal charges against individuals and institutions where it is believed that the law has been violated but that the prosecutor's office refuses to follow through.
The first step is to petition the City Council. A certified petition of at least ten percent of the registered voters in the city must be submitted, listing the possible charges to be investigated. Unless otherwise stated in the petition, special prosecutor is then named. A grand jury is then called from the list of eligible registered voters in Paragon City.
The powers of the special prosecutor in a Citizen Grand Jury are different from normal prosecutors. For instance, they have no power of subpoena. They cannot force someone to give testimony, although refusal to testify would be noted as part of the record. However, they can provide testimony and evidence which would also be a part of the public record, and would also be used in trial if an indictment is given. The special prosecutor can still petition a judge for a court order to collect evidence or to secure a witness.
Much like a normal grand jury, a citizen grand jury has two choices; they can either issue a bill or a no-bill of indictment. To issue a bill of indictment, they much specify the criminal act violated and the names of the violators, be they individuals or a group, and it must based on the preponderance of evidence presented. Issuing a no-bill does not mean a person is innocent of the charges, only that the grand jury lacked sufficient evidence.
Once a bill of indictment is issued, the prosecutor's office is obligated to bring criminal charges based on the indictment.
Once a Citizen Grand Jury is convened, the only way it can be stopped is if the District Attorney assumes control of the grand jury, thus making it an official grand jury. Unfortunately that often leads to accusations of whitewashing if the jury doesn't follow through with an indictment.
Criticism of Citizen Grand Jury
Legal scholars have long questioned the effectiveness of the citizen grand jury process, and often for many reasons. While the critics all agree that the process was needed to address an obvious negligence by the District Attorney's office, some argued that the process itself was nothing more than a formalized version of vigilantism. Other critics suggested that this process actually facilitated prosecutors not making hard decisions, thus claiming that they were "compelled" to act because of the citizen grand jury.
Critics also noted that there was a sixty-year gap between petitions for a citizen grand jury, with the last one taking place in the 1950's, suggesting that prosecutors did their jobs adequately since that time.
The Citizen Grand Jury was first introduced in Issue #1 of "The Guardian Powers".