The Statewide Association of Prosecutors (SWAP) is proposing a radical change to Utah's grand jury system. SWAP has stated that the proposed changes are needed and are minor. The exact opposite is true. The proposed changes will turn Utah's grand jury system on its head.
In Utah, a person charged with the most serious crimes a felony, or a class A misdemeanor is entitled to a preliminary hearing before an impartial judge to determine whether probable cause exists to require the accused to stand trial. At this hearing, the accused has the right to cross-examine witnesses, call witnesses on his own behalf, and have an attorney present to protect his rights. After hearing the evidence presented by the prosecution, the judge decides whether there is enough evidence to require the accused to bear the substantial financial and emotional burden of standing trial.
In contrast, the grand jury system enshrines and codifies a remnant from the Middle Ages. The targeted accused does not have the right to be present during the proceeding. His lawyer is not allowed to be present. The lawyers for witnesses are not present. The prosecutor presents evidence to lay people who are more likely than a judge to be influenced by prosecutors and police officers to return an indictment against the accused. The lawyer for the accused is never given an opportunity to give a summation to the grand jury that the evidence is insufficient to support the charges. Instead, it is a completely one-sided affair. Many prosecutors joke that they could obtain an indictment against a ham sandwich. The grand jury provides no protection from an over-zealous prosecutor.