Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel argues Oregon should join most other states and make recordings of grand juries. We agree.
Grand juries don’t decide if someone is guilty of a crime. They decide if someone should be charged with a crime.
In Deschutes County, police and the district attorney review evidence. Then the district attorney’s office decides if it should proceed. If it goes ahead, it meets in secret with grand jurors and presents evidence that a person should be charged. There is no defense counsel presenting a counterargument. And in Oregon, no recording of the proceeding is generally made. The exception is in Multnomah County. There, recordings are made in cases involving police use of physical force, according to the Oregon State Bar Association.
Defense attorneys and others argue they should have access to recordings to ensure witnesses are consistent and prosecutors are not abusing their authority.
Grand juries were traditionally secret to improve the likelihood of full and frank witness testimony. It protects witnesses from tampering. It protects grand jurors. It reduces the likelihood that people may flee if they knew they might be indicted. And it also protects innocent people whose names may come up in a grand jury.
Oregon legislators should attempt to find a compromise between the competing concerns and allow audio recordings as other states do. But that compromise must provide protection for minors or witnesses whose lives might be put in jeopardy.