GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Defense attorneys said it is time for South Carolina to change its grand jury system because the panels often spend little time reviewing cases and almost always agree to indict defendants.
Grand juries in Greenville County have returned indictments on 99.9 percent of the 18,700 charges they have heard since 2011. On a recent day, the grand jury reviewed 402 charges, which meant jurors would have taken just under a minute on each charge if they worked an eight-hour day, The Greenville News reported.
It isn’t much different elsewhere in the state. In 2014, Charleston County grand jurors indicted on all but seven of the 6,366 indictments they reviewed and Florence County grand juries heard 1,285 charges and refused to indict on just one, said Patrick McLaughlin, an attorney and past president of the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
“It is such a joke, and we’re pretending that it has meaning. Almost any defense lawyer around the country would look at these numbers in the grand jury and laugh at us. This is an absolute joke,” said defense attorney Steve Henry, who has been fighting for reform in the grand jury system for decades.
One easy fix would be passing a law requiring transcripts be kept of county grand jury proceedings like they are with the State Grand Jury, Henry said.
It would take one time — one time — of having this process recorded and this would be over,” said Henry, who thinks grand juries would instantly take more time and be through if they knew their work was going to be reviewed.
The differences in how the State Grand Jury handles cases and how county grand juries are operated mean defendants get the opportunity in state matters to challenge indictments by showing there is clear evidence of abuse or irregularity. That chance isn’t given in county matters, McLaughlin said.
The solicitor’s office in Greenville County released a statement saying it “has every confidence that the (Circuit) Court and the Clerk of Court operate the grand jury process in accordance with all constitutional and state statutory requirements, and with due regard to the rights of all defendants having their charges presented to the grand jury.