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Let grand jurors decline indictment when law is too harsh, ABA House resolves

Posted Feb 11, 2013 3:13 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The wording in the Model Grand Jury Charge for federal courts should be changed to recognize the principle that a grand jury is not bound to indict in every case where a conviction can be obtained, according to a resolution approved on Monday by the ABA House of Delegates.

Currently the model charge says grand jurors "should" indict when the evidence standard is met, according to a report accompanying Resolution 104J. The measure urges the U.S. Judicial Conference to amend the charge to read that grand jurors "may" indict.

"The grand jury can reflect the conscience of the community in providing relief where strict application of the law would prove unduly harsh," the report says, quoting from a federal appeals opinion.

Some law professors are suggesting that grand juries should be further strengthened as a check on prosecutorial overreaching. The issue is in the news after the suicide of Internet "hacktivist" Aaron Swartz, who was facing felony charges for illegal downloading.

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