This news outlet recently published an exclusive report regarding a court challenge to indictments handed down last week in South Carolina’s eleventh judicial circuit.
How many indictments? Two-hundred-fifty-eight … in a span of only 270 minutes.
The story of these indictments – which were handed down by a Lexington County grand jury – attracted considerable attention and revived constitutional concerns first raised last August in the aftermath of a 904-indictment blitz in the S.C. sixteenth circuit.
In that case, a York County grand jury handed down an indictment every thirty-nine seconds.
Or at least that is how the math worked out …
As this news outlet has often pointed out, the job of a grand jury is not to determine the guilt or innocence of an individual accused of committing a particular crime. It is simply to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for a case to proceed against them. In other words, we are talking about a much lower standard of proof.
Even so, the York County indictments were quashed by S.C. circuit court judge Daniel Hall, who concluded that the sheer number of indictments presented in that case constituted “an unnecessary and unreasonable burden” on grand jurors – while at the same time eroding “public confidence in our system of justice.”
We agreed with that ruling … just as we agreed with last week’s motion to quash the Lexington County indictments (a motion we have every expectation will be granted).
Of course there are multiple sides to every story … and when people reach out to us offering up good faith counterpoints to something we have written, we listen to them. Furthermore, we do our level best to present their perspectives to our readers – in addition to offering them our microphone in the event they wish to address our readers directly.[su_dominion_video_scb]
Since our story on the Lexington County indictments was published, we have been approached by several South Carolina prosecutors – including a few who occupy some pretty lofty perches within the state’s system of justice. All of them spoke with us on condition of anonymity, wishing to clear up what they believe to be a fundamental misconception about the grand jury process.
They expressed their reservations differently, though.
One of these prosecutors told us bluntly that our coverage of the recent indictment scandals was “bullsh*t.”
“I’m not saying you’re ignorant but that’s an ignorant viewpoint,” this prosecutor asserted.
Others were more circumspect in their criticism, with one telling us we failed to incorporate “the simple explanation for why so many indictments get true-billed (a.k.a. handed down) in a seemingly short period of time.”
And what is this “explanation?” Essentially it boils down to this … according to several prosecutors we spoke with, often times a single case with a relatively straightforward set of alleged facts will involve multiple defendants facing multiple charges (and sadly, multiple victims). Many of these cases involve drugs and/ or weapons charges in which a single alleged action often produces a smorgasbord of indictments.
You know, like using a stolen gun in the commission of a violent crime.
In other words, each indictment isn’t always based on an entirely new set of alleged circumstances. Oftentimes, a solitary alleged act involves the violation of multiple criminal statutes.
Do we buy this explanation? Possibly …
Of course as libertarians who take our constitutional protections very seriously, we believe due process should always outweigh the interests of “efficient justice.”
Is it possible that 258 indictments could be handed down in 270 minutes while still preserving the Fifth Amendment rights of all the defendants in these cases? Yes. It would obviously depend, however, on the number of defendants and the specific charges upon which they were indicted.
Is it likely, though? We do not know … but again, we would err on the side of due process in the event a judgment call were required.
Stay tuned … clearly this debate is just getting warmed up. And we appreciate the prosecutors who took the time to share their perspectives on this situation with us.
More to come …
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