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In a rule change currently being considered by the Ohio Supreme Court, grand jury proceedings in which a grand jury decides not to charge an individual could soon become public records that could be accessed by anyone in the state. Ohio grand juries are currently secret proceedings which cannot be accessed through a public records request under Ohio’s freedom of information laws nor are they open to the public or to the accused, whom the grand jury is considering indicting.
Ohio’s Supreme Court is currently in the midst of considering a change to Ohio’s Rules of Practice and Procedure in Ohio Courts that would affect the secrecy of these proceedings. The would allow the public to petition for the release of these records in cases where a grand jury chooses not to indict someone for a criminal offense. The new process would still keep the actual grand jury proceedings themselves secret. That is, members of the public would not be allowed to attend grand jury proceedings in Ohio where a prosecutor presents evidence to members of the grand jury, who then decide whether or not to indict someone in connection with a crime. The person applying for release of the grand jury proceedings would be required to demonstrate to a judge that the public’s interest in transparency and disclosure outweighs the typical presumption that the grand jury records should remain secret.
If the judge agrees with the petitioner, the judge would hold a private hearing with the prosecutor who presented the case to the grand jury and the petitioner to discuss the release of the grand jury records. The proposed rule would allow for the redaction of the grand jury records at issue to preserve the secrecy of certain information, such as the names of grand jurors, information that could endanger witnesses who appeared in front of the grand jury or material that could endanger an ongoing criminal investigation. The proposed rule change has been attributed in large part to a series of police killings of unarmed individuals in which grand juries chose not to indict the police officers involved.
Although at first, most people would probably believe that opening the Ohio grand jury process to public scrutiny is a positive development, this could also spell trouble for the privacy rights of those individuals whom a grand jury chooses not to indict. For example, if an individual is arrested in connection with stealing from a store, but a grand jury subsequently decides not to indict that individual due to a lack of evidence, most people would agree that would be a positive development for the accused. However, consider if the theft at issue took place in a small town in Ohio where everyone knows everyone else. A grand jury may decide not to indict someone suspected of the crime and this information, if released under the proposed rule, could lead to negative consequences for that individual.
Aside from the reputational damage, this could do to someone in his or her community, it could lead to other negative consequences such as potential employers not extending an interview or a job offer if the employer finds out that the person was almost charged with a criminal offense. In that sense, the spirit of the proposed rule would be defeated, because someone would be judged by the fact that they were under suspicion for a criminal offense which a grand jury ultimately decided there was not enough evidence to support. Therefore, although this rule may seem like an excellent idea in theory, in practice it could very well end up harming those who it should theoretically protect.
If you have been arrested or charged with a crime in Columbus, Ohio, you should contact the experienced Columbus criminal defense attorneys of Luftman, Heck & Associates at . The aggressive attorneys of Luftman, Heck & Associates have represented thousands of Columbus residents in criminal proceedings ranging from murders to DUI offenses. Our attorneys have successfully protected the rights of Columbus residents for decades and we are only a phone call away if you find yourself in legal trouble in Columbus, Ohio.